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Monday, April 19, 2021

What is the Modern Now, Really?

I have been waking up a little ahead of my mentally scheduled time lately. And so I lay in bed and wait for time to happen. Sometimes I half-dream. Lately I realize it has been about what THE MODERN is right now.

And so some of the thoughts I reproduce here, not as some definite thing.  The Modern is not nostalgia or turning back the clock. It may glance backwards but not to try and recreate another age. It is not about technology in the end, though it is enmeshed in it. It is not about happiness, though neither need it be sad.

It is not a language though it may develop one as a result. It is not about industry (not now) but it might have an attitude toward industry. The future of Modernity is unclear. Only because the future of it might eventually supersede it.

It can be about a superhuman or a drastically rethought set of techniques. Or it could be without technique altogether.

It is embodied in forms of art, in music, writing, literature, dance, etc., but it is not directly any of that except as it is contained by that. 

Of course for my purposes "Modern" includes the music from 1900 on, at least in terms of that which has more or less consistently been thought of as Modern.

Meaning in the Modern I think about is not necessarily monolithic. In fact it often can have multiple strands. Think of Picasso's "Guernica." There is the Spanish Civil War reference, the abstraction of line and what each block of images refers to, there is the handling of paint, the total perspective, its flatness, etc.

So in MODERN music there is the tonality or the lack as a referent or the combination of the two, all of which is one might say a conscious intention of the composer from the idea that the MODERN can encompass either or both of these. There are "folk" elements sometimes and that is an attitude toward locality and the presence of non-formal, non-academic, or non-genre identity, for examples.

Probably we should think of the Modern as a way of presenting the "organic," today perhaps as post-industrial reduced carbon footprinted possibility? An enlightened view of gender, race, class, social interaction? Of course that is not necessarily a constant, but it can be present implicitly or of course explicitly.

What is Modern perhaps no longer needs to subscribe to high-low distinctions but may combine them in various ways. The Modern may reject conventional subject-object intentions and instead hang on to a anechoic idea that the self is diffuse in its presence in both deliberately intentionless and form-ful presence. So Cage comes to mind, that what we are has presence ultimately in whatever we do creatively, even if we try and bracket the self from the doing? And of course improvisation can be key to expressing the performer self on top of the compositional communications that may exist simultaneously..

The Modern tries to be present in the now while reserving a place in the future. It rejects the absolute need to succeed in the moment so long as it invests in the later-from-now. It is neutral to the demands of beauty, of pleasure, or wide distribution, of deep penetration in the fabric of present-day art.

It can remain indifferent to present-day lifeways, or it can be celebrated as epitomizing a people and place.

It transcends all socio-political co-optations or can be seen as belonging to any or all such factions. It is what artists hope to contribute to human endeavors.

And so it was as I half-slept.

Prokofiev By Arrangement, Music for the Stage and Keyboard Arranged for Violin and Piano, Yuri Kalnits, Yulia Chaplina


If you love Prokofiev you will want to consider today's album, Prokofiev By Arrangement (Toccata Classics TOCC 0135). It is aptly subtitled Music for the Stage and Keyboard Arranged for Violin and Piano by Fichtengolz, Heifetz, Milstein and Others. The performers live up to expectations with warmth, energy and fire as needed. They are Yuri Kalnits on violin and Yulia Chaplina on the piano.

Some of the re-arrangements are of works very well known by the Classical music world. Others are less familiar. So we all no doubt awake with the pleasure of recognition for the violin-piano versions of Prokofiev's March for the Love for Three Oranges, and the "Five Pieces from the Ballet Cinderella." Each of these benefits from the visceral refreshment of sound it gets by means of the rearragement, whether sometimes a bit thick, other times a bit thinner.

But then if you love Prokofiev you no doubt are familiar with much of this music in its original. In any case everyone can benefit from hearing this energizing mass of Prokofiev in one continuous arc of violin and piano. Kalnits and Chaplina bring to each considerable interpretive skills and a firm determination to let the music speak through them as the primary channeling, less so to emphasize their speaking, so to say. That makes for very convincing readings.

In any case we get a heightened musical concentration of bounty in this 64 minute program. I am glad to hear these versions of the Waltz from War and Peace, "Tales of an Old Grandmother," "Visions Fugitives," the 1919 "Four Pieces for Piano," the 1906-13 "Ten Pieces for Piano," and others. All the reworkings are worthwhile, truth to say.

If you listen with a bit of dedication a few times I think that like me you will get a nicely expanded feeling for Prokofiev the melodist, the harmonist, the structuralist. In part surely that is because both the simplifying or the enriching of the sound of each of these works brings us to revelatory and also quite pleasurable places.

It's a treasure trove of resituated Prokofiev. And it feels good to hear it, surely Check it out. Bravo Kalnits and Chaplina! Strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Violeta Vicci, Mirror Images, Works for Solo Violin and Viola


The present day listener, now no doubt as ever, ideally should habitually shake off the dust and cobwebs of preconceived notions of what to expect on the music scene. An excellent example of why that is so, of the happily unexpected can be heard in the recent solo violin-viola disk by Violeta Vicci, Mirror Images (Aldila Records ARCD 010).

Violeta dedicates herself to the solo violin-viola format and also vocalizes as part of her sonic palette (see below). She began playing at age 4; made her concert debut at age 15. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Howard Davis and Tomotada Soh, then at the Royal College of Music under Itzhak Rashkovsky.  She makes her home in  London. She performs regularly in the major concert halls and at festivals all over the world.

All that having been said, we turn to the crux of the matter, the Mirror Images program and its thorough mix of periods and ways, ultimately giving us a feeling of unity in diversity. So for example the Ysaye Sonata in A Minor Op. 27, No. 2 quotes Bach then reworks the "Dies Irae" Gregorian Chant for the dead. Vicci's "Improvisation VI" turns back to the chant with Violeta's haunting vocal and drones on the strings, and it all seems right.

The concluding "Sarabande" from the Bach Suite No. 5 for Solo Cello gets a viola transformation that sounds plaintive and meditative in its dirge-ish iunfolding.

Ragnar Soderling's 1966 "Elegie II" op. 68 for Solo Violin is a find, moving and somber yet heroic in its dignified unfolding of string parts played with deep understanding. It is the World Premiere recording, so all the better!

Bach's 3rd Partita for Solo Violin gets the intense working though it so richly deserves. 

Vicci's six Improvisations have ambiance, string heroics and flourish, and make significant contrasts and creative frisson in between the written works. 

So the Holst's 1930 "Suite for Solo Viola" gives us something that deserves to be heard more widely and flourishes at any rate in Violeta Vicci's hands, in this World Premiere recorded performance. 

Another nice yet unexpected inclusion is the Jean-Louis Florentz 1985 "Vocalise," which gives us the tensile modernity of Violeta's pure yet intense voice all by itself.

When one lives with this album for a time as I did, one might well grow accustomed to the novelty of the combinatory choices and begin to feel their own special rightness. That's how it all struck me eventually.  And along with that recognition comes an appreciation of the strength of Violeta Vicci's invariably contemporary sound, her deep and poised execution and delivery. 

Strongly recommended. A true sleeper.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Sunleif Rasmussen, Territorial Songs, Works for Recorder


The recorder as it is constructed favors of course diatonic intervallic relationships as opposed to the chromatic execution that Modern music generally calls into being. The present-day composer writing for recorder must think modally, bitonally and otherwise create special matrices and polyvalent expressions that expand both the backdrops and the foregrounds of a recorder music. The recorder player too might be called upon to master various fingering acrobatics as required by the expanded syntax of such pieces.

Sunleif Rasmussen gives us his own nicely idiomatic recorder music possibilities on his collection of some World Premiere Recordings (2) and other recent works called in total Territorial Songs: Works for Recorder (OUR Recordings 6.220674). Michala Petri does a remarkable job bringing the recorder parts to life throughout for all five varied and contrasting works. The album has been released to coincide with Rasmussen's 60th birthday and it gives us happy reasons to celebrate along.

Each work has a differing configuration of players and each stands out in effective and moving contrast. And as one listens and takes stock one feels the unique presence of each work gradually, and without exception with an eventual joy of recognition. So the title work "Territorial Songs" (2009) is a concerto for recorder and orchestra and via its five movements lays down a rather remarkable impression with its Modern yet songful score and its fine performance by Petri and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra.

Another high point is "FLOW" for recorder and string trio (2012) which has a definite expanded Modern tang and a sense of humor though it is quite serious throughout in its musical brilliance, its Neo-Classical wire-y quality, its punch.

"I" for recorder and chamber choir (2011) gives to us yet another unexpected ambiance. 

And for different reasons we get hooked into things again on the atmospheric "Winter Echoes" for recorder and 13 strings (2014), and too the recorder solo gem "Sorrow and Joy Fantasy" (2011).

The sum of it all stands out once we give the music the proper attention. It affirms Sunleif Rasmussen as a composer of stature, Michala Petri and all the accompanying performers as suited remarkably well to give us a benchmark version of each work.  Strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Yoko Hirota, Small is Beautiful, Minature Piano Pieces


The intimacy of the solo piano work lends itself to the Modern art of the miniature, as something not attempting a grand design of high drama and towering form so much as the artful snapshot of a fleeting musical moment, a Zen instant of meaning for contemplation. Pianist Yoko Hirota gives to us a compelling and full program of such works by Modernists known and lesser-known on her recent Small is Beautiful, Miniature Piano Pieces (Navona NV6294).

There is a lot to like on this one, a wealth of tiny gems spanning the Early Modern to the Present-Day Modern period. There is so much worth hearing, extremely well played. The challenge, or one of them, to such thorough-going contemporaneity and economy of means-ends is that the pianist needs to fully digest the impact of each small totality and turn it into a unified expression. For of course it is true that no composer in this group intends to be random. Instead each work means itself as the togetherness of a dialogic expression in collaboration with the pianist.

The multiple-work groupings include Arnold Schoenberg's "Sechs Kleine Klavierstucke" (1911), Ernest Krenek's "Eight Piano Pieces" (1946), Aris Carastathis' "Traces" (1991, 2007), Gary Kulesha's "Two Pieces for Piano" (1994), and Robert Lemay's "6 Ushebtis (2003). The latter is a happy surprise, atmospheric and extended in technique and sound color. But that is not to lessen the other contributions, Each individual piece in the set relates to the other as pages in a photo album perhaps, serially intertwined yet distinct.

Add to that additional individual miniaturist statements by Ligeti, Berio, Carter, John Beckwith, Bruce Mather, Brian Cherney, John Weinzweig, and a final offering by Robert Lemay. The totality of the mix is heady, with the known and the very new or unfamiliar stepping out together in a kind of tour de force of the Modern from the vantage point of right now.

Yoko Hiroto gives it all her very own personal performative-interpretive poeticism. She takes care to lay down each phrase as a syntactical element in the overall meaning of the whole. She succeeds wonderfully well in drawing together the small parts of the miniature into its totality, in relation to each the other whole so that we feel organically addressed as a musical co-respondent, an audience enwrapped in absorption, spoken to with care and attention.

Any appreciator of involved Modern piano will find this a welcome addition to her-his collection. Happily recommended. Bravo!


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Duo Shu, Yi-Wen Zhang, Nanyi Qiang, Play Faure, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Gao and Bartok


Great music is a matter of  the experiencing, of course. So in the course of one's musical life one ideally remains open to whatever music one comes across. So when a CD by Duo Shu (BGR581) arrived in the mail the other day, I was not entirely sure what to expect, since I did not know of them. But I was ready to give it my full attention. They are excellent, as it turns out.

It is made up of Yi-Wen Zhang on cello and Nanyi Qiang at the piano.

The program is a very full one, quite well suited to show the duo's expressive strengths and ways that draw one into the music and keep creating a lovely sense of movement and growth throughout. Maestros Zhang and Qiang founded their Duo in Ohio in 2019 but their first musical interactions date from 2002. Both hail originally from the Chengdu region of Western China. The end result is that both thrive together in how they share both a Chinese childhood locality and the Western Classical heritage. Their considerable musical interpretive skills and disposition add to that commonality to create a most magical musical presence on this CD.

The program has an expressive penchant party by thriving in a minor mode Romantic and Post-Romantic, from Schumann to Faure and on to Eastern Europe (Rachmaninoff, Dvorak and Bartok) and happily further on to Chinese living master composer Weijie Gao and his moving "Longing for Shu."

The substantial yet tempered warmth of Yi-Wen Zhang's cello is a thing to relish. She gives every phrase a feelingful weight and luscious tone, with beautifully true intonation and a dramatic thrust that feels just right for this repertoire and our current-day appreciation of clarity as well as push. Pianist Nanyi Qiang has a remarkably uncluttered delivery that pares all down to its essence and provides a thoughtful, singing, ringing blanket of sound to enfold the cello effusions in a well deserved royal carpeting true to how these musical possibilities feel today.

Something a little unexpected is the Luigi Silva cello-piano arrangement of six Bartok "Romanian Folk Dances," which sound quite ravishing in this format as the Duo Shu plays through them doubtless with the same utter delight one feels in hearing them. The Weijie Gao work is also a special highlight with its mysterious contemporaneity and beautifully expressive gestural depth.

It is one of those albums that not only wears well with age, listens that is, it makes connective sense and works together for a fine experience first-to-last. This one can give your season, any season really, a bright floating bubble to adorn the day. Warmly recommended.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Orlando Jacinto Garcia, String Quartets 1-3, Amernet String Quartet


Cuban-American composer Orlando Jacinto Garcia writes music that aims to suspend time. This according to the liner notes on the recent offering String Quartets 1-3 (Metier msv28613). The Amernet String Quartet perform all three quartets with care, precision, and understanding. And time becomes relative with close listening, or at least that was my experience.

Garcia was born in Cuba, 1954 and migrated to the USA in 1961. His compositions have received a number of awards and world-wide performance coverage.

The aural feeling of suspension in time (at least in terms of these quartets) often comes about by a very gradual unfolding of content, a deliberation that plays out bit-by-bit in each case, by repetition that involves less of a developmental processual element (as one might hear often enough in the music of Steve Reich) but instead changes and interchanges sectional elements that further the work in a temporal suspension, even if there might be rapidly expressed elements at times.

The music at its best settles into a complexly varied phrasing that repeats without haste and in the end without the least feeling of urgency. The music says its say and one finds at the end a connectivity that invites one to contemplation, non-insistently.

There are times when the music unravels like a Persian Carpet--like later Morton Feldman, where patterns repeat and then contrast with other patterns and the connectivity is a natural contiguity, a "this comes next to that" apparentness . Yet as you listen it does not sound like there is a Feldman imitation, just an affinity. And his syntax has a personal originality that sets it apart from other composers in general.

And with the repetition the term Minimalism comes to mind. Of course repetition is nothing new. As in Rock, Blues, African, European folk, some Classical, etc., to repeat is to groove sometimes, to trance, to take pleasure in the thing restated. The sort of repetition Feldman and Garcia are up to does not look for groove much, certainly, and the slowness of the unfolding brings timelessness which perhaps is the opposite of groove? 

Listening here from the second to, say,  the infinite rehearing of a motif, one does not find oneself driven into the connectedness as a somatic ecstacy. It all suspends rather than re-sends. And that is fine because no music need to conform to all other related musics of course. To not groove is to allow other music to do that, and to contrast the listening self with another place to be.

If you live with this music for awhile like I have you may well find it a special thing, serious and expressive, thoughtful and in its own way a step ahead. It is sincere, intimate and a musical world unto itself, happily. Recommended.

Friday, March 26, 2021

James Dashow, Songs from a Spiral Tree, The Vocal Works, High Modern Classics


Maybe like me you do not know a lot about composer James Dashow. The current two-CD set will help set you straight.. It is titled Songs from the Spiral Tree: The Vocal Works (Ravello RR8046 2-CDs).

This is all-hands-on-deck High Modern song grouping, five in all, that come out of the tradition of Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez and beyond. Dashow also studied the music of Dallapiccola at some length, and that influence is no doubt also in there as a general factor. 

There is a pronouncedly rangy, full throated, acrobatic vocal style and a thoughtful instrumental and/or electronic accompaniment, all mind expanding, carefully and masterfully crafted with a sure hand. He was one of the very first to work with computer music and some of the songs feature some very imaginative and skillfully executed computer electronic parts, a high point of the program, surely. 

The poetic song texts include some of our finest Modernists--with Theodore Roethke featured on "Songs for a Spiral Tree," John Ashberry on "Second Voyage" and "Ashberry Setting," and John Berryman on "Some Dream Songs." Text and music match nicely, perfectly even.

The performances are excellent, with some beautiful singing from Constance Beavon, Lisa Pierce, Sonia Visentin, Joan Logue and George Shirley. The instrumental parts for flute (Lauren Weiss or Jayn Rosenfeld), harp (Lucia Bova), piano (James Winn, Aldo Orveito, or Giancarlo Simonacci) and violin (Mario Buffa) are excellently played and beautifully written.

Anyone who loves the vocal arts and High Modernism will find this one very good to hear, I would think. Bravo James Dashow!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Sustain, Vol. 2: Solo Piano and Chamber Works, A Modern Anthology

The more disparate and numerous the musical items an anthology contains, the harder it is to write about it in some ways. Yet if the music speaks one must cast some light on it all. The Navona label periodically produces anthologies of new Modern music in various genres and with various configurations, various themes. Here today is such a one and it qualifies as something nicely adding to our appreciation of the Contemporary, so I am glad to write about it.

So then here is one that has gotten my attention. It is Sustain, Vol. 2: Solo Piano and Chamber Works (Navona NV6345). All the music tends to be in the realm of the Modern, the Tonal, the rather Neo-Classical often enough, sometimes with a slight touch of Neo-Romanticism but ever veering off on original paths, productive tangents in the miniaturist mode.

Within the totality the objective of this program is to present "piano works in solo, duo and trio settings." So we get nine works for solo piano, one for violin and piano, one for tenor sax and piano and a trio for violin, cello and piano. The ever passing parade of subtly singular works makes for fascinating listening. 

To single out a few solo piano pieces that stay in the mind, even if they all do, there is the bluesy, jazz inflected strength of Sarah Wallin-Huff's "The Reluctant Carnie," and John A. Carollo's articulate, explosively animated and weighty "Piano Etude No. 6," Kenneth Kuhn's "Of What Might Have Been" for violin and piano  has a sharply defined Neo-Classical verve and Jim Puckett's "Nocturne" for tenor sax and piano gives is a reflective lyricism that stands up and demands to be heard. The finale is "Bewildered Soliloquies," a high voltage trio by Santiago Kodela. 

It all reminds us that we live in a world where the music keeps springing forth no matter now the world fares otherwise.

So too we get a wealth of other possibilities of a very worthy sort on the additional solo piano works by the likes of Karen A. Tarlow, Chen-Hsin Su, John Craven, Gordon Monahan, Bill Sherril, plus two by Ron Nagorcka.

Edgard Varese once famously exclaimed that "the present-day composer refuses to die!" This anthology is proof, if you need any, that it still is very much the case. There is much to explore here. Any piano music acolyte will find this a boon I am of little doubt. Kudos.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Sid Richardson, Borne by a Wind


Some composers create music as they might breathe. The music follows upon itself in a natural flow, like conversation idealized into a musical transform. That's the feeling I get listening to Sid Richardson on his recent Borne by a Wind (New Focus Recordings FCR285).

It in part centers around the poetry of Nathaniel Mackey, a kind of Post-Beat brilliance well suited to getting articulated around a musical incubation, so to speak. The five movement "Red Wind" defines that, in recitation of Mackey fleshed out further by soprano Melissa Hughes and the Deviant Septet (with wind, contrabass and percussion to take on Jazz or New Music inflections alternately) giving shape and form to the poetic imagery. It all proceeds in ways that channel Jazz and New Music,  to further everything and make it make a kind of perfect aural sense, poetic, meaningful Jazz-Classical Modern elements and a touch of World, all wrapped into one. 

I've heard "Red Wind" a bunch of times so far and it keeps making more and more of an impression on me, so that is a happy thing. Rounding out the program are three additional chamber gems--"There is no sleep so deep" for solo piano, "LUNE" for solo violin, and "Astrolabe" for the six instrumentalists of the Da Capo Chamber Players. All three pieces further deepen our appreciation of the advanced, eloquent and limber contemporary inventiveness of Richardson. 

The piano piece is in the Ultra-Modern performative mode, beautifully done by Conrad Tao. "LUNE" gets concentrated soundings by Lilit Hartunian. It is meditative, open, empty and full at the same time, redolent with motivic insistence without taking on the mesmeric periodicity that old-school Minimalism typically worked towards.

"Astrolab" does for sextet what "LUNE" did for solo violin--it unwraps a kind of unified musical idea only in more complex and multivoiced ways that unveil variational endlessnesses.

As is usually the case these blog words are not meant to provide a definitive analog to the sounds so much as pique curiosity and suggest the directionality of an album. So that. On the basis of this Borne by a Wind program Sid Richardson is an important voice on the New Music scene today. The entire program combines sound color and eloquent linings ever. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

James Caldwell, Pocket Music, Concrete Miniatures 1998-2020


Early Electronic and Musique Concrete flourished of course in part by the complexity and novelty of the aural colors the artists painstakingly built up out of transformations and generations of heretofore unheard of possibilities. With the advent of synthesizers in some ways the music was akin to the idea in organ music--that there were preset "stops" and composing became in part a matter of the building of form within the available sound parameters. This is a gross simplification but true in the broadest senses.

With the recent album Pocket Music:Concrete Miniatures 1998-2020 (Neuma 135), James Caldwell  gives us in a fascinating series of very short to mid-length miniatures a revived sense of possibility in transforming acoustic sounds to timbral openings onto newly regenerative sonic universes. The infinite number of transformations possible for any given soundset gives us tantalizing pause. Like abstraction in painting there is sometimes a tangential referential relation from original to re-composed, so that you feel in a new place, an OTHER place.

And too there is a kind of performative relation to original sound transformations. Landscapes are seemingly organically congealing though each element has been aesthetically transformed with the kind of inventiveness that may remind us of the old musique concrete works of Pierre Schaefer and the others of the Euro-French School in the '50s and early '60s. On the other hand the composer draws us in to the idea of a alternate lineage down from Xenakis, Mimaroglu, Gaburo. What matters is that what he views as a rootedness I too hear in this album. And if I listen again, sure I hear those influences in essence too.

But on another level the music comes out of the idea of the encapsulating title, Pocket Music. The idea is that the sound sources can well be thought of as things that can comfortably fit in a pocket, so a rubber band or wrapper that once contained fruit, a set of keys, a pencil, ping-pong balls and more besides. It all locates the music in a casual everyday place, perhaps also at home, a place where from the world of everyday objects one may induce a set of sounds, a subset of the homespun world of sound possibilities--a Mikrokosmos  kind of miniature interrelatedness, along with a making special of the everyday. .Underneath it all is a unique conceptualism that helps distinguish this music as of a particular piece, a common source, the ready-to-hand of the most mundane of objects, yet because so everyday yet so transformed there is a kind of intimate joining of art and life.

And so there are in the grouping together of given miniatures a kind of feeling of difference and sameness for contemplation, with never a dull moment but continual movement in the best ways.

Anyone who loves classic Electronic and Electro-Acoustic Music will feel very much at home with this album. For those so rooted it will remind you perhaps why you were attracted to the new sounds in the first place? It did that to me. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Robert Moran, Buddha Goes to Bayreuth


I last posted on the music of Robert Moran in 2011, a review of his Trinity Requiem for 9-11 victims (type his name in the search box for that). Now here we are some ten years later and the world is a different place of course yet  Robert Moran's music straddles the passing time, literally. He returns in full force with his impressive opus Buddha Goes to Bayreuth (Nauma 136).

The work clocks in at a little over an hour, filled with expressive ambition for a massed forces of Stefan Gorgner as countertenor, the two choirs of the KammerChor KlangsCala Salzburg and the dual string orchestras of the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, all under conductor Rupert Huber. What we hear was well recorded live at the Salzburg Cathedral in 2014.

The premise for the music is elaborate and resonant. It was initially commissioned in 2011. Part One was added three years later to make it an evening's worth of music in the extraordinarily resonant Salzburg Cathedral. 

Wagner wanted to write an opera about the life of Buddha but didn't. Buddha Goes to Bayreuth in effect imagines it, or perhaps more properly to say he ere-imagines it  The work features among other things chordal blocks that are derived from Parsifal. Some Tibetan Mantras are also part of the raw ingredients. The end result is original and absorbing, quite cosmic in a special space-time expressivity.

It is a long ethereal stretch of massive suspensions and holdings perfectly matched for the substantially lengthy natural echo of the cathedral. There is grit in the harmonic pointedness of the score and a good hour of contemplative sounds that have a feeling of timeless endlessness. There is an unmistakable present-day currency continually rolling along in our hearing experience. It is a beautiful sprawl that in a way uses the cathedral acoustics as an instrument with a deliberate sounding of length and depth. One must hear this to fathom it all. Words are not sufficient.

It brings you to an aural space that somehow straddles East and West, today and long ago yesterdays. It is something to experience in depth and the opening effect of the hearing grows as you listen again. Definitely recommended for the New Music vocal music adept, or for that matter anyone who seeks the new.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Robert Honstein, Middle Ground, Music for Solo Violin and Electronics, Kate Stenberg


The music of Robert Honstein has not crossed my listening path all that much (but I've appreciated what I've heard on a couple of anthologies. Type his name in the search box above for those.) Today we consider an EP program devoted solely to his music, Middle Ground  (OM 2030) for solo violin and electronic manipulation, played nicely by Kate Stenberg.  There is a film that goes with the music but I have not seen it as yet. The sound work in itself attracts one's attention in very good ways either way, at any rate.

The music divides into three interrelated movements. The violin sounds out from a sonic stage that is a little bit echo-wet a la ECM. The middle section seems to have a subtly slight digital delay.

The first part "Too Far" starts the music out with a quiet mystery--somehow not unrelated to some of the thoughtful, introspective chamber sounds we have heard most definitively from the great Arvo Paert yet Honstein is singingly original in its own right. The signal splits so that the violin answers self duet-style in lyrically radical tonality, with a diatonic sweetness that does not cloy.

"Too Close" has a bit of digital delay and/or multiple tracking and produces a steady-state New Music fiddling that holds its own in minor mode that sounds almost ethnic in a post-Modernity kind of way. It pleases me greatly and holds my attention. Perhaps you too would feel that way? It is music easy to like yet not at all predictable.

The finale, "Bridging the Gap" peacefully unwinds around diatonic lower and higher register call-and-answer passages that spellbind without assertively calling attention to themselves.

The music has its say then fades off into quiet. It is not easy to present a musical front that is simple yet not the least bit banal. Robert Honstein's music and Kate Stenberg's focused and subtle violin performance execution pull together to create a markedly deep impression, a special sort of simplicity that refreshes as it expresses. 

Well done! I recommend this for the seekers of what one might call Tone-Mystery Modernism. Nice.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Douglas Boyce, The Hunt By Night, Chamber Music


Who is Douglas Boyce? A good way to start knowing about him is on a recent album of his chamber music, The Hunt By Night  (New Focus Recordings FCR 278). It is another great example of why New Focus Recordings is one of the best things to happen to New Music in a long time.

We get a chance to immerse ourselves in five works, all around 10 minutes or so long. They were composed between 2003 and 2020, so of course we are talking about very new things. Douglas Boyce puts a great deal of thought, imagination and detail into each of these pieces. They happily and refreshingly occupy a turf somewhere between Neo-Classical and High Modern chamber space--rhythmically vivid in a post-Stravinskian sense, tonally vast in a near atonal mode, adventuresomely scored.

The inner sleeve of the CD puts forward what Boyce is all about in such clear terms I think it right to quote it directly. That is, that "Douglas Boyce writes music exploring the historical entailments of musical-being and with the temporal poetics of performance." Well, uh, yes. He does do that. It actually makes sense once you listen carefully.

In the liner notes to this program Boyce agrees with Stravinsky in asserting that music is fundamentally anchored ontologically in time, as opposed to anchoring in sound. Music situates performers and audience in a special ritual temporality. History and the present coincide. They do so here in a specific bio-mechanical continuity we call "chamber music," in this case delicately specific in spite of the "severity" of the Modern. It encompasses for all that an historical meta-narrative as well. 

"Embodied performance" here joins with what we now experience as the digital--on the CD of course.

Of the five pieces on this recording, three feature the 6-7 member chamber gathering counter)induction. The title work "The Hunt By Night" reimagines in musical sound Paulo Uccello's 1470 painting by that name,  taking a middle path in some ways between symmetry and flatness with hunters, dogs and hunting horns set against the rigid envelopment of the forest. The music in turn reflects a poem based on the painting, the 1970 expression by one Derek Mahon. The eloquently matter-of-fact rhythmic vitality of the work vividly goes far in an elaborate substitution of temporal rituals of sound-in-motion. It is a music that is bracing, beautifully conversant in depicting the memory of image and word. It is a work of convincing, excellent fettle. The clarinet part marks the territory in a special pointedness that the rest of the instrumentation follows and expands.

Backing up to the opening "Quintet l'homme arme" we have more to immerse us, very gladly. It gives counter)induction another vivid explosion of sound that obliquely reflects the extraordinarily popular "l'homme arme" setting that composers adopted often enough during a pretty numerous number of decades after its emergence in the 15th century. Boyce's dramatic treatment of the melody puts it into dissonant territory and renders it wholly something other, which we Modernist sympathizers can only welcome as familial and pleasing to our specially formulated palettes. The contrast of movement and relative stasis in the two sections heightens the feeling of difference too and taking it all in, it is a happy listen, indeed!

The "Etude for Cello and Piano No. 1" (2017) comes into our hearing with a lively springboarding out from a quasi-bolero and then on to a heightened connectivity of rhythm contrasting with further elocutions we find most absorbing--or at least I do! Bravo to Ieva Jokubaviciute and Schuyler Slack for a fantastic performance of this one.

The "Piano Quartet No. 2" (2008) gives Trio Cavatina and violist Beth Guterman Chu a kind of thrillingly dissecting musical possibility in the tightly focused excitment of this considerably lucid outburst.

And finally we experience with pleasure the third counter)induction performance with the 2019 "Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind" which stands out for the nicely expressed initial sounding of classical guitar (Daniel Lippel) and its subsequent unwinding and unfailing development with both guitar and chamber group forging together as a whole.

It is music that should grab ahold of you decidedly after a few listens. Douglas Boyce is reassuringly and convincingly his own voice in these works. And the performances are fully up to the challenging demands he puts on all concerned. A Chamber Modern gem, it all comes to that. This one gets my highest recommendation. Give it a chance and see what happens. It is serious business. Bravo!

George Lewis, The Recombinant Trilogy


Anyone who follows the musical career of George Lewis should know his beginnings as an acclaimed improvising trombonist on the Avant Jazz scene--as a key AACM (Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) member, notably making his mark in Anthony Braxton's group and on from there. In time his immersion in Electronic and New Music gave us a composer of great stature and innovative inventiveness. 

I've covered gladly his music on my music blogs from the beginning of my blog posting some 14 years ago. (Type his name in the search box here and also on my Gapplegate Music Review and my Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Review. Before that I covered his releases on Cadence.

I am glad to return with another interesting disk of his music, The Recombinant Trilogy (New Focus Recordings FCR 284). It is a further and effectively moving step toward realizing, refining and redefining the performance combination of live instrumentalists and live electronics. As the liner notes inform us, the live instrumental signal is subjected in real time to put forward "interactive digital delays, spatialization and timbre transformation" that remake the acoustic sounds of each instrument "into multiple digitally created sonic personalities that follow diverse yet intersecting spatial tragectories."

It is a matter of three pieces for virtuoso instrumentalist and electro-acoustic transforming operations Lewis appropriately and helpfully calls "recombinant electronics." 

We begin the program with "Emergent" (2014), for the flute of Claire Chase and the electronic manipulation of Levy Lorenzo. The resultant music is infinitely flexible, plastic, singularly filled with human gesture yet as a magically charmed extension of the acoustic material world.

This is followed by "Not Alone" (2014-5) for Seth Parker Woods who plays cello and applies recombinant electronics to the signal himself. There is a great deal of spontaneously emergent cello in itself, a wonder to hear, but then a continual enveloping and burgeoning outward into something fascinatingly other.

Finally there is "Seismologic" 2017 for Dana Jessen on bassoon and Eli Stine on recombinant electronics. The very nature of the acoustics of the bassoon drives understandably the final electronic mélange in ways that unleash a more earthy, almost undergrounded deepness, and then a gradually rising up of emergency urgency. And in the end the synchrony and then the dis-synchrony of acoustic and electronic intertwinings stand out as the culmination of the three-pronged voyaging we travel through with interest and fascination.

In the end we get a convincing chamber tapestry of human gestural aesthetics which partake of the beautifully novel but does so with a conversational periodicity that reaffirms the personal quality of live music making while it expands the palette of possibilities for a great wealth of intention and artistry. Molto bravo. There is great spirit to these three works and so much to explore and appreciate. Recommended strongly.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Eric Craven, Pieces for Pianists Volume One, Mary Dullea


Life is short, art is long. Old words but they still ring true. Ars longa, vita brevis. And on a day like today the longness of art asserts itself in spite of how short existence might be. That is because for me it is a matter of enjoying the music of a composer I have missed until now. Eric Craven reminds us that art is long because he makes music that helps lengthen it all. I have been enjoying his album of piano music that has come out recently. It is the Volume One of his Pieces for Pianists (Metier msv 28601), written between 2017 and 2019 and very nicely performed by Mary Dullea.

This volume includes the first 25 pieces, miniatures short and very much alive with character. So in this case "art is short," but there's a bunch of it so it gets long eventually! The music is tonal, playful in ways that remind slightly of Satie without owing the least bit to him in any obvious way. The pieces revel in, if I might say this, the sheer pleasure of their sounding. It is not a music that challenges so much as it affirms itself in its singing of itself pianistically. And that owes a great deal to the pianist as well as the composer.

The CDs liners tell us that this music is as much concerned as anything with the microscience implied in the miniature, the musical equivalent to sub-atomic science. Then too the composer wants in this "to encourage and excite both a honing of technique and a quickening of the impulse toward interpretation." Hence the title we should note is "Pieces for Pianists" as much as for piano! And happily the pianist rises to the challenge and gives us the kind of poetic, interpretive readings that Maestro Craven no doubt appreciates.

As listener, we hear this and other dimensions as well, or at least I do, appreciatively. So for me there are moments that seem to refer back to old Music Hall and Jazz elements but as if through a lens, refracted. Other pieces have a reference to playfully "practicing" the piano, only not so much just in the doing as in remembering such a thing. There are elements of humor, of reflection, of reflexively evoking time well spent with the piano in days past, earlier years, formative times. So in the doing is the remembrance of the doing.

The hopefully wonderful thing about it all is that it works, that the music evokes with a bright, vivacious charm that does not try and revive some previous musical world as it takes the memory of it and makes of it a contemporary.commentary, so to speak.

In the end we have 25 miniature gems as much fun to hear as they no doubt are to play. It most certainly makes me want to hear Volume Two as soon as it comes out. Craven writes for the pianist with the care and consideration that all-but-ensures that the performances will be all one might hope for in the hands of a piano master. And so bravo Mary Dullea for coming though with infinite care and zeal. And of course bravo Eric Craven. This one is a lot of fun. Do not miss it. Hurrah!


Monday, March 8, 2021

Sam Hayden, Becomings, Works for Solo Piano, Ian Pace

Music is like life. You may think you know a lot about it, but then the future has things in store and you cannot quite know what. With music (and with life) that can be a good thing of course. So I try and maintain an open stance, to be ready for whatever comes.

Today's offering is one of those happy surprises one can experience. It is a two-CD set covering the piano music of Sam Hayden, as played extraordinarily well by Ian Pace. Becomings (Metier 2-CD msv 28611) covers the title work as disk one and three shorter works on disk two. It all has the adventuresome sort of High Modernism dash that situates pianist and instrument on a heroic and dynamic series of journeys that keep the listener challenged and well rewarded with exciting fare. It comprises to date Hayden's complete works for solo piano and as such the first recordings of same.

The stylistic territory occupied by this music has a deliberate, free spontaneity feeling, Expressionist but also open-cosmic, in a varied a-rhythmic attack that perhaps owes something or overlaps at any rate to the later improvisations of the great Cecil Taylor--it is deliberately irregular and not overtly periodistic for the most part and does not deliberately stress a key center most of the time. It sometimes also recalls some of John Cage's star chart works--for its complexity, its vastly expansive, counter-intuitive set of possibilities that then become logically conversational as a musical language, happily.

The final work in the set, "Piano Moves," for amplified piano,  has a jagged, ragged, primally dissonant, mesmerizing  insistency that marks it off as singular. To get maximum effect one should let the music take over your situation for its 24 minutes. 

"Becomings (Das Werden)" bring us seven sections and a very motionful a-rhythmic atonality that has a virtuoso level of unexpected yet especially continual  morphing that Ian Pace handles with high artistry and sensitivity.

The remaining two works on disk two, a short "Fragment (After Losses)" and the longer "...still time..." have more of the open unpredictability in motion as we hear on the title work. "Still time" has a hushed quietude that unwinds in a nicely post-Feldman poetic way. Then it breaks out with more energetic and expressive loudness before leaving more quiet rumination to contemplate.

This set will appeal to all pianistically oriented Modernists out there. Hayden is the genuine article and I hope we can hear more of his music in future releases. Good show!


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Astor Piazzolla, La Pasion, Tango-Etudes for Violin Solo, Kinga Augustyn


Some music combined with some performances seem perfectly right. And when you come across such things it is a confirmation that the world may be upside down in many respects yet music somehow makes it right even if only for a brief time, i.e., not an entire evening or such, just as long as the music is meant to last.

That is the case with a short album I've been enjoying recently. It is performed wonderfully well by violinist Kinga Augustyn. Type her name in the search box above for some other reviews I've done of her albums, some just a few days ago.

In is something very nice by Astor Piazzolla, namely La Pasion, Tango-Etudes for Violin Solo (Centaur). What's rather remarkable about these six etudes is how they manage to partake of a Tango atmosphere-adventure yet they often spin away from any very overt expression of the continual rhythmic insistence a regular Tango would need to have to be danceable. Instead they sometimes weave themselves in and out of such considerations via rubato and fractional structural-segmental pauses that put the music in a different place. And in so doing Piazzolla and Kinga suspend dance time as we might conceive of it and instead fall nicely into violin solo unaccompanied virtuoso expressions in which one recognizes readily a Piazzolla elan, something that sets him apart from virtually any other composer.

Much of this "halfway-here, halfway-there" quality works especially well in the way that Ms. Augustyn straddles the "Tango/not Tango" qualities of the writing. It is a pairings of composer and performer that stands out, that seems ever-fresh no matter how many times one listens. 

So I do recommend this one heartily. Kinga comes through again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Julien Palomo, S'Eteindre (Penderecki, Pendant La Fin Du Monde)


I have come to appreciate the music of Julien Palomo over the years as a New Music Electrician of true stature. During this Pandemic he has finished off a very ambitious, 11 part Electronic Music work S'Eteindre (Penderecki, Pendant La Fin Du Mond)  (Mutant Sounds, Bandcamp DL). It lasts many hours and so does not especially lend itself to a single-sitting hearing in general but that is the case with very long works. I found it quite worthwhile to listen to it all a few parts at a time.

The end of the great composer Penderecki and the continuing end of the world come together in this rather apocalyptic reverse paean to some extraordinarily difficult times. 

Each part has its own identity and substantiality; lasting from around 20 minutes to under an hour. Julien puts it all together with a dense orchestrational electronic wash of multiple synths, often with long, but not obviously droning sustains that ebb and flow in complexity and contrast as underpinning to foreground musical-noise events that have a discursive variability that is faster moving, that are evolving events often contrasting with the bedrock of the slower moving constants.

The more I listen to all this the more I feel like I belong in this musical maze. It is important work, advanced, endlessly stimulating, a great sound companion for your moment of repose. Listen!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Lavena, In Your Hands, New Cello Music By Peacocke, Montgomery, Shaw, Hearne, Dessner and Adashi


One way the new can surprise is when it does something so well one rehears what is possible. That's very true of cellist Lavena's debut solo album In Your Hands (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0145). It is a most remarkable program of New Music for unaccompanied cello and then two additional works for cello and another instrument.

What first struck this listener about it all is not so much that the music is tonal, though that is true. It struck me how much the music takes care to bring out elemental cello resonances and sound colors by taking advantage idiomatically of standard cello tuning, the possibility of open strings and very resonant multiple stops, figurations that very much bring out the special qualities of effective cello string soundings and of course cello bowing, to unveil richly expressive archaic and vibrant cello acoustics.

It is especially true of the unaccompanied works.  The opening, a debut recording of "Amygdala" by Gemma Peacocke pits solo cello against an electronic backdrop for a beautifully emergent cello sonance that has a primality that does not quite drone but pairs multiple stops in long beautifully sustained melodics.

The premiere of the three movement Jessie Montgomery work "Duo for Violin and Cello" combines an intricate intertwining of William Herzog's violin with Lavena's cello for soaring arpeggios on combined string sequences and pizzicato adventures followed by a striking chorale-like interlocking with blocks of shifting sustains leading to an intense rhapsodic cello soaring atop the violin's continuous multiple-stop sustains. The lyric blocks further develop. Then the final movement gives us an exciting series of presto arpeggiations, ingenious shifts and shades very well played. Exhilarating music this is.

Caroline Shaw's solo cello "in manus tuas" follows with striking double stopped. two voiced exceptionalities. Lavena is called upon to blend her voice with the cello part and it sounds very good indeed. The work is beautifully based on a motet by Thomas Tallis.

Ted Hearne's "Furtive Movements" pairs cello with percussion (Jeff Stern) for a remarkable series of rhythmically vibrant and sonically complex expressions in four short movements. The interplay defies description in the best manner and the sound colors juxtapose in uncanny ways. That brings lots of smiles of appreciation, or at least that is the case for me! A virtuosi tour de force for sure.

Bryce Desner's "Tuusula" in its premier recording begins with some attractively dynamic fanfare sorts of figures and continues with some beautiful sequences played brilliantly well by Lavena.

The finale "my heart comes undone" was written for Lavena by her husband Judah Adashi, based on the Bjork song "Unravel" and more generally also on stylistic elements of Arvo Part. It gives us a fitting end to a marvelously fresh album.

I am favorably reminded at times of the string styles of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. But then also too of the string work of John Cale on Nico's Marble Index album from the 1960s and also Berio's string accompaniment to "Black is the Color" on his wonderful Folk Songs suite. It is Archaic Modern in that way and I love the sound.

And then it is more besides, a new take on the Contemporary Modern as a whole and undoubtedly of interest to anyone who wants to keep current and looks for something very musical as well as very new. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Kinga Augustyn, Turning in Time, Modern Music for Violin Unaccompanied


The unaccompanied string solo work is, along with the string quartet, a locus where composer and performer can convene on the deepest levels, where seriousness of purpose does not generally run up against strong pressure to please large numbers of audiences. We generally look backwards to Johann Sebastian Bach as the lineal forefather of the bare-wires solo works for violin and cello (though he was not chronologically the first so much as the contentual "spiritual founder" so to speak). 

In the later eighteenth and early 20th centuries Paganini and Max Reger in different ways made their marks on the post-Bachian dialog of solo violin music. The Modern era found in the unaccompanied violin increasingly an aesthetic platform for deeply intimate expression and an art-for-art's sake ambition to forge a modern musical language both abstract and affective to varying degrees, concentrically and infectiously, if you will.

In this light masterful violinist Kinga Augustyn gives us a deeply focused program of Modern unaccompanied violin works on her new album Turning in Time (Centaur CRC 3836). It is a gathering of some six works covering the period from 1958 to 2018. It is a far ranging set of works that call upon the soloist to focus unceasingly, to embrace the ultimate balance point between lateral flow and vertical articulation.

So for example with Luciano Berio's exacting and dramatic "Sequenza VIII" (1976) Ms. Augustyn triumphs in the way she keeps the momentum, the unfolding of the intense line making as she also breezes through and eloquently configures the passages that with hairpin exactitude lay out sequences of multiple stops. We are drawn to key passages that track the music forward, then experience a relative repose before charging forward again.

The Polish compositional phenom Grazyna Bacewicz has been gathering a momentum of recognition in the past few decades and we see why on her 1958 "Sonata No. 2." There is a wonderful Eastern European Modernist logic to the advanced expanded tonality with both consonance and dissonance in the double stops and a remarkably fluid Politsh grace to the line weaving Ms. Augustyn realizes it all with poetic elan and, ultimately, heroic finesse with the rapid multi-stopped virtuoso passagework that jumps out at us towards the end.

A new voice on our horizon is felt and heard with Debra Kaye and her beautiful 2018 "Turning in Time." We feel as we listen at the other side of the Modern Classic juggernaut, having gleaned from dissonance and atonality how a return to key centers is tempered today with a full knowledge of what all possible chromatic combinations and intervals brings to us in potentia, the richness of freedom of possibility. And very appropriately Ms. Kaye gives us a pithy quotation from a Bach Chaconne that reminds us of how far we have come. What Ms. Kaye gives to us is rich yet spare. a giant redwood of potential before there is a leafing, so to say.

Isan Yun further reminds us of the roots when he opens with  a theme from Bach's "Art of the Fugue" and proceeds to extend it to a place beyond itself, nicely and with a gravitas that Kinga brings to us wonderfully well.

From there we bounce to a great Elliot Carter work in four parts and some choice Penderecki. All that mounts up no matter where you are in the program's solo legacy.--following the sequence laid out for us or hopping around as I was when I wrote this. 

The point is that the whole gives us more than the sum, but then it is a whole that feels just right in terms of our Modernity right now. Then again  it gives us a gorgeous snapshot of the warmth, brilliance and intelligence of Kinga Augustyn, a violinist very much at the forefront of today. Bravo!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Gina Biver, Fuse Ensemble, Nimbus, Colette Inez


You can never be sure where you will be until you get there. That's true of life of course but also of New Music. Take today's musical program featuring the music of Gina Biver, Fuse Ensemble plays Nimbus (Neuma 131). It surprises and pleases. It features vividly musical settings for the recitations of the poetry of Colette Inez, simultaneously narrative, insightful, paradoxically playful yet tragic, poetic. 

The CD jacket explains that this is "for electroacoustic chamber ensemble, voice and spoken word."  This electroacoustic ensemble is mostly various shifting instrumentation (some seven instrumentalists used in varying combinations) and some soundscaped effects. such as church bells and chant-hymn making, and importantly a recitation voice, sometimes filtered or briefly repeated, otherwise true-to-text and linear.

The music is tonal, Post-Minimal I guess you could say when it pulsates, otherwise nicely Contemporary in an expressive narrative way, playful and evocative to reflect and deflect the recitation.

To be more specific it all is a collaboration between Inez and Biver, with the poet reciting some, the composer others and some sung (beautifully) by soprano Tula Pisano. There are previously alluded to ambient recordings of sounds from Nerac, France (the locus of much of the drama). It centers around the poet's thoughts on the coming-to-be and early childhood memories of her very self. It  considers the circumstances of her coming to exist, born of an affair of her father a Roman Catholic Priest and her mother, "a young French scholar assigned to assist him."

It all flows together remarkably well, disarmingly unpretentiously, matter-of-factually, yet touchingly dramatic in its unique obversion of language and music that points nearly obliquely but most memorably and expressively. It its own fashion it has a stunning way about it. It makes me want to hear other works from Ms. Biver. And the poetry gains all the more by its recitation-music-presentation. Take a listen by all means. And grab a copy. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

John Robertson, Symphonies No. 4 & 5, Meditation In Flanders Fields, Brataslava Symphony, Anthony Armore

Of the new in music there can be no end. And so we happily gain exposure to new work and try and open up to it all as we hold on to what we already know and revere at the same time, in other words, as we continue to revel in the past masters. 

I've been listening in this vein to an orchestral program from a composer I do not believe I have heard from until now, one John Robertson. His Symphonies No. 4 & 5 and Meditation in Flanders Field (Navona NV 6325) can be heard in the present recording, quite respectably played by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra under Anthony Armore.

Robertson was born and raised in New Zealand and came to Canada in 1967. He then subsequently studied at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Like Ives before him he has made a career in insurance while composing as time has allowed. His output includes an opera and five symphonies, all of which, the liners inform us, have been recorded by Navona.

The present disk shows us a vibrant and lyrical Romanticism without the heavy baggage of derivation and perhaps in that way akin to Samuel Barber, in other words using the Romantic idiom to forward a personal vision.

Symphony No. 4 (2017) has a very winning way. We immediately take note thematically in the first movement to his effective use of winds, solo clarinet and horns. He straight off shows us a nice sense of orchestration and an ongoing linearity in the theme that keeps us listening. The second movement is Andante with a 6/8 waltz theme for oboe and strings that has mystery and moves on through to further developments that suggest a somewhat bucolic pastoralism and a good bit of magic. The final movement brings to us a bubbly and bright momentum and fittingly ends the work with a sort of folk dance meets orchestrally striking mood, putting the capping touch onto a decidedly good one to hear and have.

"Meditation in Flanders Fields" (2016) features a recitation of John McCrae's poetic thoughts and prayers, if you will, for the fallen soldiers of WWI resting for eternity in their Flanders burial ground. The orchestra heightens the thoughtful and evocative contrasts between nature and history, the human tragedy and the natural of the verse with orchestral depth in quietly, wistfullly singing strings and trumpet-horn call echoes of the martial world now forever gone.

The Symphony No. 5 (2018) continues the proceedings with a furtherance of thematic complexities and gradual unfolding. The endless melodic quality of the opening Allegro reminds us how the composer's inventive resourcefulness sets his music apart and gives us much to hear and rehear with satisfaction and interest. The work continues and brings a unveiling of orchestrational beauty that bears our attention well.

If you do not insist that all new music be devoted to the cutting edge of stylistic futures and welcome a further adventure into and rethinking of Tonal Romanticism this one will give you much to consider and delight in, I suspect. Recommended.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Steven Christopher Sacco, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Amalie Wyrick-Flax, David Oei


I have known nothing of composer Steven Christopher Sacco until now and the engaging EP of his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (American Composers Alliance). It is played with distinction by Amalie Wyrick-Flax on clarinet and David Oei on piano.

The Sonata is in four short movements. It has a tonal lyric bent but also a lot of character that gives it a Modern aura. The clarinet part welcomes an expressionist delivery which Amalie provides in good measure. The piano part has an equally essential presence and David excels in matching Amalie with a soaring sense of sensibility.

This music comes and goes in a flash yet it leaves an impression in the best sort of way. It belongs among the more impressive and original clarinet-piano outings of the present day. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Juan J.G. Escudero, Shapes of Inner Timespaces


From living composer Juan J.G. Escudero comes a rather remarkable album of electroacoustic works under the title Shapes of Inner Timespaces (Neuma 134). All told there are eight works included here, four free-standing and another four grouped under the "Shapes of Inner Timespaces" title theme.

What first strikes one on listening is how gorgeous the sounds are. They are transformational and flowing, waterlogged wet and sometimes metallically plated for an ever evolving beauty, often pitched yet highly charged with atmosphere and vividly colored. It has the motional flow of Stockhausen's "Kontakt" yet very much on its own terms.

The liners from the album document the composer's sure sense of a mathematical  unfolding. The complexities of Escudero's descriptions defy easy summary. Yet they are well worth reading for insights into his working methods. So for example the first work, "Variations on the Bird and the Snow" (2014) takes life with an initial improvisatory recording and subsequent development via "geometric and algebraic processes,"  for the sound analogy to tiling. 

It is a kind of "random tiling ensemble," a "branched surface" imagined as a colored pattern, "where the cells with the same shape, color and orientation correspond to the same tile in a cellular complex." One hopes for insight as one listens and there is plenty to contemplate whether it all becomes clear or remains shrouded in mystery. The point is the experience, and it is a rich one as far as I am concerned.

What's nice is that, e.g., like Xenakis, the post-intuitional complexities that result are the reward for the deep structural transformations the sounds are subjected to. And that is true of each one of the pieces.

Living with this album for a week only confirms my first impression--that this is some of the finest electroacoustic music I have heard in a long time and that it makes me want to hear more! That's the kind of listening experience I hope for every time I listen to new New Music, but of course it can only be completely true of relatively few albums over time. This is one! Listen to it, do.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Michael Hersch, I Hope We Get A Chance to Visit Soon

I write in spite of my inclination lately, for we live in somber times. I've heard news commentators in the last few weeks assert that we live within a mental health crisis, with long-term effects of pandemic and politics, and the accompanying stress of everyday life taking its toll. I myself am not joyously happy these days, though I maintain a balance anyway. Surely some folks in the headlines lately seem disturbed; their actions might best be explained by a chronic point of reference in ir-reality, not to mention a-sociality?

So is this a time to hear music on a decidedly down frame of reference? Not any less than it is always timely to take in a Shakespearian tragedy, for example. In such cases transcendence is the point. I've said such things here before. It is of course critical that the music be well done, or else why bother?

Today I offer you some thoughts about a great example of such a thing, I Hope We Get A Chance to Visit Soon (New Focus Recordings FCR 251)  by Michael Hersch. It is a 16 part dramatic narrative work for two sopranos (Ah Young Hong and Kiera Duffy) with a chamber orchestra (Musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Tito Munoz).

It is a live recording from the Aldeburgh Music Festival and most certainly is high quality sonically. Clocking in at a little over an hour the present performance of the work seems definitive.

The work reaffirms the importance these days of Michael Hersch as one of the leading living voices of US High Modernism. I've covered a fair amount of his music on these pages (type name in search box above for those).

This one looks at the gradually unfolding trauma of a woman who finds she has a tumor that turns out not to be benign. The two sopranos express the progression of the affliction both matter-of-factly and poetically. It follows on the heels of Hersch's "On the Threshold of Winter" (2012) based upon texts by poet Marin Sorescu, who died of cancer in 1996.  

The present work Hersch conceived of as a companion piece and comes to terms with the loss of a close friend, Mary Harris O'Reilly in 2009, also from cancer. The texts for "Hope" are based on letters O'Reilly wrote Hersch plus poetic fragments by Rebecca Elson.

The music and sung text follow the steady progress of the cancer in spite of medical interventions. In the liners Christopher Hailey notes the rather unprecedented aestheticizaton of cancer in both works and indeed it is not your usual dramatic focus. On the other hand the absolute sincerity of the treatment helps us in feeling this as an unforced memento mori of a dear friend, with the obvious care that went into setting these texts.

Perhaps only those who have lost friends or family in slow procession to the inexorable march of cancer can fully appreciate the nuances of this drama. The music is within Hersch's high expressionist syntax and we relate the musical structure understandably with the emotional turmoil of gradual loss. And yet we do it primarily in terms of the internal experience of the patient. We come to feel personally the endless struggle as she must have, and the music portrays it in elaborately stark terms, in a readily express manner you who know Hersch's ways are not surprised to hear.

This is sad music but as one might hope music that in its very artfulness adds both tribute and transcendence, and gives dignity to the long suffering progression it immerses itself within.

Is it the musical equivalent in a way to plunging in an ice-cold stream after spending time in a sweathouse? It may shock the sensibilities by its unstinting honesty, but it remains always the expression of a high art.

Just listen!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Jordan Dykstra, The Arrow of Time

To read all of Proust, to look into representations of time, to experience Bergman's Seventh Seal  is to alter the way you experience life, or at least that's so to me. Now it is time for me to add Jordan Dykstra's The Arrow of Time (New World 80823-2), a CD that's been out for a few months but has caught my attention definitively in the last week.

It consists of five varied but nearly cinematic works, culminating in the title work. Jordan Dykstra, the liners tell us, has been on the music scene for 15 years, classical, improv, avant garde, etc. The music we hear on this new program proceeds with both deliberation and openness, with conventional chamber ensembles and/or electroacoustics. And I am so glad I have this to hear again.

There is a timeless timefulness to this music, which oftimes involves successive layers of sustain with changing timbral colors, gradual unfoldings that have a wordless narrative quality, yet they "mean" without saying, brightly so.

Layering of sustains are paramount in the opening "Fathom Peaks Unseen" (2015/16) (for 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass and crotales), also the ensuing "Ghosting No. 3" (2017) (for two violas, vibes, synthesizer and reed organ), then also "Orbits" (2016/17) (for viola, sine tones and chen).  

Throughout, the music forms and unforms as drones, harmonies, and sheer sound space. All has the abstraction of meaning more so than the sheer materiality of things. As the music continually builds and shifts, we experience a kind of cognitive motion within self as a kind of analog to the aural experience. Or anyway I feel that listening.

By the time we get to "In the Snow" (2018) (for violin, viola and cello) the sustains are slow moving with brief silences that mark out a periodicity, and so bring us to a post-hypnotic way of experiencing it all. Then comes a mid-section where glisses are added starkly at the beginning of each sustain for contrast. They disappear after a time for the feeling of a making bare again, perhaps roughly standing for the white bareness of an increasingly gathering snow cover?

"The Arrow of Time" (2019) finale puts us down in a new place as it builds with piano, siren, drumbeats and "fixed media playback," into a very narrative-formed unfolding that seems almost Bergman-like in its evocative quality, complete with an unrelenting pulse that evolves into the tick of an ancient clock that in turn evolves and gets reinforcement via complementary contrast sounds. As you listen it feels like time is inexorably there and makes itself felt with real aural force, moment to moment. Bravo to this one! It is unforgettable in its own way.

After a few hearings I gradually came to find deep form and meaning in it all. Jordan Dykstra chimes in with real importance. And he manages to hit home whatever he does here. Is this the music of the future? Who knows, but it certainly captures a recent feeling, a place where we are as it so all happens. And part of the point is the "so all happens" feeling of this music. Hurrah!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Carolyn Surrick & Ronn McFarlane, Fermi's Paradox, Music for Lute and Viola da Gamba


Fermi's Paradox is all about how we do not have evidence of other intelligent life elsewhere even though the promising conditions in some sectors of the Universe would seem to indicate that we should have already found at least some traces of it. Why is that? 

The lute and viola da gamba album Fermi's Paradox (Sono Luminus DSL-92244) is a musical rumination on this conundrum, the entire album named after the magical opening piece lutenist Ronn McFarlane composed for the album. It's one of his three Folk-Early-Neo-Lyric song-like items he performs on the album with Carolyn Surrick on viola da gamba. They are excellent players both and well attendant upon one another's presences for these and some gem-like settings of old English Folk ditties, some Early Music pearls and some otherwise well-healed arrangements of other melodic excellences throughout.

The contrast and flow of the repertoire makes for a continually high listener interest level that's to the gallantry of the performances and beautify of the parts working together.

So we get gigs, jigs, reels and wonderful feels out of such fare as the traditional Irish "She Moved Through the Fair," the English classic "John Barleycorn," the traditional Swedish "Sjungar-Lars Visa" to name a representative few, then Early Music savories by the likes of Dowland, Marin Marais, Hassler, Bach, Telemann, and then present-day surprises like Duane Allman's "Little Martha," plus staples like "Ave Maria," "Amazing Grace," etc.

It is the refusal to stay put in one definite period or genre that makes this of a somewhat surprising appeal, and by that I mean it surprises because everything hangs together even though one would not expect to combine and sequence them all in quite this way.  McFarlane is a marvelous lutenist, as subtle as he is accomplished and Ms. Surrick makes a perfectly vivid contrast with her own supreme musicality. 

Get this one for the sheer pleasure of it.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Beauty Crying Forth, Flute Music By Women Across Time, Sarah Frisof, Daniel Pesca


An album generally starts in your experience with a cover image. So the image above peered back at me as I opened the package that contained it. The title told me what to expect, Beauty Crying Forth, Flute Music By Women Across Time (Furious Artisans FACD6826). It is performed, as the jacket explained, by Sarah Frisof on flute, Daniel Pesca at the piano, and for one work Hannah Collins joining in on cello.

Of course it is in the listening that everything takes form. So it is, very noticeably so, with this album. The deep impression one gets immediately is what a remarkable flautist is Sarah Frisof. She has a markedly sweet and musical tone, considerable agility and a sure and poetic sense of phrasing. Pianist Daniel Pesca has interpretive talent in his own way, plus too a personal commitment to sounding his part with care and imagination. In tandem the two together approach every work with a fresh start and a feel for the individuality of each piece. Hannah Collins fits right in too, quite impressively, on the Saariaho work she participates in.

And that strength of individual performance character ideally suits the wide-ranging program, spanning from Clara Schumann's expressively intimate "Three Romances" of 1853 through to Shulamit Ran's now-ish 2014 "Birds of Paradise."

The opening "Alma" (2007) by Tania Leon brilliantly manages to bring an opening and closing New Music representation of wind chimes to a virtuoso array of kaleidoscopic middle sections of great spirit, one passage sounding especially, pronouncedly Cuban-Latin-New Music fused. It is all a delight.

Clara's "Romances" follows, giving us a ravishingly contrasting lyrical tenderness and some soaring flute-piano interplay. Sarah's flute literally glows with warmth here and we feel the inventive period talent of Ms. Schumann fully and happily. 

Amy Williams contrasts the above with the eleven movement, very boldly New Music work "First Lines." It gives us fascinatingly vivid and ornately varying sound-color miniatures with a great deal of panache. 

The gone-much-too-soon Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) appears before us with the brightly beautiful brief and Impressionistic gems "Nocturne" and "D'un matin de printemps," played with lovely care. Just these alone make all worthwhile.

Next we get the spacefully sonic trio for flute, cello and piano, the 1998 "Cendres" by Kaija Saariaho. It bursts forward with a marvelously evocative quality, suggesting and making present landscapes that burst forward for miles and must be taken in with their many imaginative musical motions. Marvelous.

The finale in "Birds of Paradise" brings to us the immediacy of the last decade (2014) and Shulamit Ran's energetically dynamic, deeply contemplative, probing music.

So we end where we began, roughly in the present, having traversed the now and the then with some excellent music by women composers of real stature, played with exceptional poise by Sarah Frisof, Daniel Pesca and Hannah Collins. Strongly recommended for anyone who loves the flute and is open to great chamber music by women past and present. Bravo!   

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Gene Pritsker, EroicAnization


With the music of Gene Pritsker a reliable constant is his brilliant unexpectedness, it seems to me. Last month (December) marked the 250th birthday of Beethoven. Part of the festivities honoring the occasion surely is Gene's album EroicAnization (Composer's Condordance), which selects musical passages from the 3rd Symphony and in one instance "Fur Elise" to rework them extensively into various stylistic exceptionalities. 

So for example the opening "Ludwig's Night Out" combines Gene's noteful electric guitar work with electric piano, bass and drums for a Fusion wonderment that makes a very different sense out of Beethoven while retaining Ludwig's melodic edge.

"Eroica Erupted" takes an old recording of the Eroica and electronically manipulates it, while adding a sort of demonically lively Hip Hop for strings, drums, etc. As is the case throughout the album, it is not just what Gene does to the Beethoven lines, it is the how of the transformation, how it works as something unleashed anew. 

"Eroica Extracted" makes lyrical ensemble sense out of another passage extracted from a recording and pulled apart as the ensemble puts it back together again differently, happily, contrapuntally engaging it and creating something wholly new amidst hypnotic counterlines that help put it all together.

"Erotic Eroica" makes up a slinky progressive heaviness that feels right, somehow. 

"Eulogy Eroica" gives us a plaintive and thoughtful chamber ensemble movement, then a nicely engaged song with an expressive vocal in a Modern Contemporary Pop sort of way with an edginess that one might expect from Pritsker. 

"Erroneous Eroica" works very productively with the scherzo--an orchestral excerpt as electronic source along with ensemble. It is wonderfully playful, wild and funny, too. Everything works together to conjure surprising variations and hairpin turns away from an expected destination.

"Eka Tala Eroica" gives us a sort of Indianization in ways that intrigue and delight. 

Finally "Fur Elise Charleston"--is just what the title suggests. It has that old band 1920s sound and yet it is indeed "Fur Elise" in a lively disguise. Then just as one thinks one knows what is next, up comes rap from the MC! It is funny but brilliant, too.

So we have a homage to the great Ludwig that marks his milestone birthday in ways that are really quite fun and substantive, typically Pritzkerian in that it takes nothing for granted and traces a contemporary Modern set of ties back to dear old Beethoven without a conscious throwback sort of nostalgia. It is someth9ng  stylistically possible only right now, today, and for that matter something nobody else but Gene Pritsker could quite pull off so convincingly. Bravo!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Leslie Tung, Beethoven, Piano Sonatas Nos. 14, 8 & 13


Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December of 1770 and if I did not mark the 250th anniversary of it last month in truth I celebrate it often enough by experiencing his music in my life continually ever since at around 13 years of age I came upon his Eroica. Here today and tomorrow however I will mark the anniversary anyway. Today there is pianist Leslie Tung doing the Piano Sonatas Nos. 14, 8 and 13 (MSR Classics MS 1733), 14 of course known as the "Moonlight Sonata" and 8 as the "Pathetique." 

The first thing that sets this apart from others is the fact that Maestro Tung makes use of a pianoforte built by Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti in 1983. It is based on a c.1795 instrument by Johan Lodewijk Dulcken, Munich. The date and province of the instrument means that it is one hopes characteristic of the sound of the pianos Beethoven played and composed upon in his prime. Of course the pianos from that period have a quieter and sweeter sound to them in general, making the pianissimo passages more delicate and fragile, the fortissimo passages less clangorous. I am no expert as to the hows and whys of such things but the less tempered tunings of period instruments is not a large factor in this particular reconstruction. Yet there is still a sort of shimmering sound to the notes, especially mid-register. And so much the better for it.

Leslie Tung gives us poetic readings of all three sonatas, readings that make creative and very musical use of the characteristics of the period-style piano. Listen to the adagio cantabile movement from Sonata 8 and you will be treated to a beautiful synergy of artist and instrument. 

The misted mooniness of the opening movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" is also a rather remarkable melding of artist and piano. I cannot help but imagine that Ludwig would have approved. Maestro Tung has plenty of technique on display throughout, but the emphasis is on the actually sounding, the bringing to bear of the notes as Beethoven himself might have imagined them played when he wrote each sonata. What an extraordinary artist was this Beethoven, we inevitably think as we hear Maestro Tung put all three sonatas through their paces with care, imagination, reflectiveness and dash. Listen to the last movement of the Moonlight Sonata for the uncanny synchronicity of artist and instrument, the slight rubato to emphasize the inner connectedness and the heroics of the brilliant passagework. It all makes sense.

In Nietzsche terms these readings are more Apollonian than Dionysian. And nicely the better for that. You may not come away from this program thinking "what an amazing pianist." It is more "what an interestingly faithful representation of Beethoven." 

I am glad to hear and have this one. I reminds me of course of the very happy part of birthday 250! Give this one a hearing. Recommended.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Alexina Louie, Take The Dog Sled, Evie Mark, Akinisie Sivuarapik, Esprit Orchestra, Alex Pauk


Some music fits a season so well that it seems right to hear it at that point. It is true of  deep winter and the Alexina Louie work for Inuit Throat Singers and Ensemble, Take The Dog Sled (Centrediscs CMCCD 28320).  The performance features seven musicians from the Esprit Orchestra and throat singers Evie Mark and Akinisie Sivuarapik, all under the direction of conductor Alex Pauk.

The work was commissioned by Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, completed in 2008 and first performed by the MSO during their tour of Nunavek in far Northern Quebec. After a good number of performances we happily have this worthy recording.

The work centers around an adaptation of traditional Inuit Game Songs, a unique musical pastime for two singers with greatly varying, aurally fascinating duet articulations of pitched throat singing and percussively breathed vocal twists and turns. There is nothing quite like this music in sound quality, the interlocking vocal bursts proceeding with unprecedented timbral depth through close repetitions of short call-and-response phrases.

Take The Dog Sled utilizes Game Song phrasing sung by the two throat singers, countered with a chamber orchestra that takes its musical form in part from Game Song phrasings and adds depictive open tonal passages that in the eight-part whole give a vivid impression of the plasticity of Inuit social and everyday life. It at times seems almost a concerto for throat singers and ensemble, yet it travels beyond that to instrumental tutti that take it all some distance from the short phrased vocals yet are shot through with their influence.

This is music both evocative and fun, seriously expressive yet filled with a joy of gaming in its own way. It is not your expected Modern Chamber fare and so refreshing in its somewhat independant cast. Very recommended.