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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Gail Archer, Chernivtsi, Contemporary Ukrainian Organ Music


Before the fall of the USSR last century I like many in the States was not very aware of a Ukrainian musical scene per se. Now of course all that has changed and we can follow what is happening there directly. 

A nice example has come out recently--Gail Archer's Chernivtsi, Contemporary Ukrainian Organ Music (Swan Studios MM20042). On it some six contemporary composers give us seven works in all.

It follows on the heels of  Ms. Archer's A Russian Journey, Music of the "Russian Five" (see my post on February 13, 2018 for information on that one). Both volumes are the first in a series of albums on the organ music of Eastern Europe. A third album covering Modern Polish Organ Music will be released shortly.

The current recording utilizes the Rieger-Kloss organ in the Armenian Catholic Church in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. It sounds powerful and full, fully appropriate for the very dynamic and detailed symphonic organ music we have the pleasure to hear. Ms. Archer happily was sent numerous relevant scores by her Ukrainian composition and organist colleagues and she chose these excellent examples to illuminate and enlighten us all.

Eastern European minor and chromatic Modern sensibilities dominate with a richness of imagination and dramatic flourish that mark the program out as notable and fascinating to hear in depth.

The album opens with two works by Bohdan Kotyuk (b. 1951), the "Fanfare" especially notable for its use of fourths to build harmonic spatiality. Listen also to the very chromatically full build up on the Mykola Kolessa (1903-2006) "Passacaglia." In contrast there is the end of the program, the firmly minor heritage of "Chacona" by Svitlana Ostrova (b. 1961) and a more extended, more freely unfolding "Fantasie" by Iwan Kryschanowskij (1867-1924).

In between there are interesting works by Tadeusz Machi (1922-2003) and Viktor Goncharenko  (b. 1959). 

This is a volume any organ music modernist-appreciator will gravitate towards, plus of course those wishing to explore what is happening organ-wise these days and what was happening a bit earlier in the Ukraine. Gail Archer casts a steady artistic light on the music in winning fashion. 

For music lovers in the New York Metro area Ms. Archer is slated to perform a trio of concerts centered around Eastern European Organ Music--on February 7, 2021 at Church of St. Francis Xavier, 55 West 15th St in New York Coty, 2:30 pm; for more information contact the church at  212.627.2100 or visit sfxavier.orgon March 16, 2021 at 7 pm at the St. Jean Baptiste Church, 184 East 76th Street, New York City; for more information contact the church at 212.288.5082 or visit; and on April 10, 2021 at 3:00 pm at St. John Nepomucine, 411 East 66th Street in New York City, for more information contact the church at 212.734.4613 or visit All concerts are free, donations accepted.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

JunctQin Keyboard Collective, reTHINK


From Canada we have six hands for pianos and what have you, the junctQin keyboard collective to be precise, and their album  reTHINK (Redshift TK479). They are celebrating ten years together with eight Modern works they have identified with and are in turn identified in if you will have it, which I certainly am happy to do by listening repeatedly. They are Elaine Lau, Joseph Ferretti and Stephanie Chua. In combination the works they play range from piano six hands to six hands in the piano, toy pianos, electronic keyboards, and more, all reminding us we live in an aurally extended universe these days, and how that is a good thing.

The works have in common a sense of adventure and a Modern slant. Schnittke's "Hommage a Stravinsky, Prokofiev & Shostakovich" brings out the rhythmic vitality of those composers and their very well developed melodic thrust. Schnittke sounds out that essentiality with some very masterful, stirring music.

Monica Pearce's "Chess Suite" makes lively use of two toy pianos and teases out the pulsative presence of such instruments well played, the beautifully fragile melodic possibilities and her own vital musical imagination.

Ravel's "Frontispice" hails from the end of WWI (1918) and is performed here for piano six hands. though it originally called for two pianos and five hands. I do not recall hearing it, ever, and it is very nice to hear at that--as done so well on this program.

Emily Doolittle's four-handed piano "Sorex (A Celebration of Untamed Shrews)" was inspired by Shakespeare in 2010 and thrives with nicely memorable pianisms throughout.

Tomi Raisanen "Insider" (as alluded to above) is the three mostly playing inside a grand piano. Pure adventure I suppose you could say it is, for it is.

Two works for piano six-hands follow, good things by Chris Thornborrow and Alex Eddington, both works ornate and nicely exploratory.

The program ends with an Elisha Denburg piece for piano, toy piano and Casio keyboard. "Welcome to the Warp Zone!" is nearly orchestral in scope. It leaves us with something truly fun, catchy, and "jazzy" if you will.

After all is said and done junctQin leaves us with a good reason why New Music remains a vital thing no matter what else the world may bring. The content is detailed and uniformly musical, the performances are bright and bristling with energy and sensitivity. If you seek something new and unexpected, here is a good one to grab.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Kenneth Gaburo Conducts New Music Choral Ensemble


You may well remember American composer Kenneth Gaburo (1926-1993) via his Nonesuch recording of the later '60s and/or perhaps the New World recording from the early 2000s. Now we find there is a rediscovered concert tape from 1967 coming out as a CD, Kenneth Gaburo Conducts New Music Choral Ensemble (Neuma 124).

It turns out that the program and the performances are very good. Two short but worthy Gaburo electro-acoustic works that came out on the Nonesuch LP originally--"The Wasting of Lucrecetzia" (1964) and "Fat Millie's Lament" (1965)--are included here, with the same electroacoustic tapes that made up that part of the LP. They still sound fresh to me.

The rest of the program consists of some High Modern classics and some interesting works not all that well-known at this point. In the latter category are brief works by Charles Hamm, Robert Shallenberg, and Leslie Bassett, all composed in 1966-67. Of great interest though perhaps also not very well known is the fascinatingly atonal Jazz shadings of Ben Johnston on his "Ci-Git-Satie" (1966).

The flowing advanced tonality of Nono's "Sara Dolce Tacere" (1960) and Webern's Op. 2 "Entflieht Auf Leichten Kahnen" (1909) shows the excellent musicianship of the choral ensemble and rings out with the advanced harmonic palette as it was meant to be expressed.

Pauline Oliveros' "Sound Patterns" (1962) was first introduced and made famous in an Odyssey LP at the time. This version is every bit as sturdy but perhaps a slight bit less percussive--so different enough to keep us interested.

The longest (eighteen minutes) and among the most interesting of the works is the Messiaen "Cinq Rechants" (1948). It has the sort of heightened rhythmic clout one might expect of the composer in this period. Gaburo and the New Music Choral Ensemble give this one plenty of energy and precision for a very satisfying conclusion to the program.

In the end there is a nice contrast between the various works. It all makes for a rather bracing portrait of choral Modernism as it stood in 1967.The audio and performance quality makes me glad this is now available some 54 years after it was performed. Listen to this one for sure! Very recommended.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Paolo Marchettini, The Months Have Ends, Orchestral Works


Nobody doubts that we live in tumultuous times these days. How can I keep on writing about music when the world seems bound for hell in a handbasket? We need music now as much as ever, I would answer. It is what can heal us and allow us to go forward again. And so I keep on.

Today I am enjoying another new one and another new artist to me, a composer by the name of Paulo Marchettini. There is a worthwhile disk devoted to his orchestral works just coming out. It is named after one of the pieces, The Months Have Ends (New Focus Recordings FCR280).

The five works presented in this debut album have a great deal of gravitas, a seriousness of purpose and a dramatic richness that thrives within a balanced poise of expression.

Marchettini hails from Rome and currently makes his home in Manhattan. Interestingly he cites as influences Verdi, Frescobaldi and Morricone. The influences happily are realized obliquely in that the music itself stands on its own as a lyrical-tonal Modern Expressionism of an original sort.

A high point is the six movement "The Months Have Ends," an alternately reflective and brashly animated score for soprano Alda Caiello and Orchestra della Toscana. It is based on Emily Dickinson. 

The seven movement "Concertino" features the composer on clarinet and the MSM Chamber Orchestra for a nicely wrought, wiry romp that sings out boldly and features beautifully intertwined clarinet-orchestral interactions.

"Notturno" is alternatingly a deeply mysterious and agitated descriptive work that shows us an eloquence that is far from the ordinary today.

The entire program is noteworthy and well performed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Grossman Ensemble, Fountain of Time, New Music By Ran, Cheung, Dzubay, Ko, Mettens


The world of New Music these days is as varied as it ever has been. There is no one "formula," no one style that dominates as there often has been, Anyone who follows this page sees this, no doubt. One might explain all that partly on the widening connections of worlds with worlds, communities with communities, as is made possible by the internet and the increasing ease with which one might obtain recordings in the digital medium?

In light of all this there is an interesting new anthology of chamber orchestra recordings by living composers, as performed by the Chicago-based Grossman Ensemble.  The CD is entitled Fountain of Time (Chicago Center of Contemporary Composition). The program features five varied works of character by five diverse composers. The works were written just now, between 2018 nd 2020.  They stand out in orchestration and invention, each of them in their own way.

More overtly Modern than not? Tonia Ko's "Simple Fuel."  More tonal but filled with idiosyncratic character? Shulamit Ran's "Grand Rounds."

Each of the compositions has definite substance and musical richness. Each is performed with care, flair and grace by the Grossman Ensemble, who in turn consists of some 14 musicians, variously conducted by Ben Bolter, Michael Lewanski, David Dzubay, and Jerry Hou.

Augusta Read Thomas, Professor of Composition at the University of Chicago and Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition, found the typical situation for an aspiring composer in the typical setting less than ideal--after long and arduous work the budding student-composer hands in the finished piece and eventually gets as the main point of feedback a trial rehearsal of the work lasting perhaps several hours or less. Augusta envisioned better, a true musical community where a resident ensemble can interact with emerging composers over some length of time, collaborating, fine tuning and conceptualizing, building a style up from the ground of practice so to say, and ultimately concertizing. After a bit of preliminary organization such a situation happily developed with the Grossman Ensemble. We see the fruits nicely in our CD today.

The five works presented on Fountain of Time show us how such a living community of musical practitioners can give the music a growing presence and lead to some true "progress." So in addition to the works noted above we get substantial stylistic forays with Anthony Cheung's "Double Allegories," David Dzubay's "Pho" and David "Clay" Mettens' "Stain. Bloom, Moon, Rain." Each work carves out a musical syntax of the now, gaining traction from what has gone before but then proceeding into where we can be in the present.

This rewards your listening with originality and freshness, the inventive thrust of which sustains multiple hearings and expands one's idea of what New Music can be these days. Nice going. Bravo! Definitely recommended.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Wang Lu, An Atlas of Time

We go through our lives right now, as in any other time, of course, except right now at times for many of us is a kind of limbo brought on by COVID. It has accentuated even more the importance of the virtual and in terms of New Music that means CDs and digital media, naturally. It allows me to keep on, by means of the new albums I am sent in the mail. And then of course with these blogsites I can write reviews while sheltering in place.

Today I write about a recent album, a collection of the music of Wang Lu, whose music I've covered in several anthologies (type her name in the search box above for those). This is my first brush with her music in depth, with an album entitled An Atlas of Time (New Focus Recording FCR 277).

It is a very interesting assortment of Ms. Lu's compositions, two orchestral and three chamber pieces. The music is highly engaging, in a sort of High Modernist mode with an emphasis on extended techniques and heightened sonority.

Ms. Lu hails from China and has been uniquely situated to stand between musical influences East and West.

The title orchestral work "An Atlas of Time" is the centerpiece of the program here, as beautifully performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose. Five movements give us an imaginative, and not necessarily a linear trip though something not as a map per se but more as a  dreamscape. As the promo sheet puts it, her music here and in general is "less about a fusion of styles as it is about tapping into a cartography of her own personal memory and experiences." The music involves a series of found objects often enough, her own musical Proustian madeleines, richly evocative markers of having been in a certain time and place, and then another time and place.

What matters in the end is the living inside the music as a personal event, which as supercharged with personal experiences is never indifferent or coldly abstracted, but engaged and as original as a signature, a series of streams of collided memories that exist together in strikingly extended aural terms.

So the five movements of "An Atlas of Time" juxtaposes the experiential contrasts of the anthem of the Internationale, a children's radio show theme, bells of many sizes and experiences, Gesualdo, the fulfillment of a gestural and storytelling role much deeper than mere nostalgia. It is a fascinating work that bears up under scrutiny. Similarly the concluding "Siren Song" (for a small chamber orchestra of ten musicians) holds forth by musically extending a transliteration of an ancient dialect of the town of Xi'an,  Lu's home region of China.

The three chamber works are of their own special interest, whether it is the "Ryan and Dan" work for the sax of Ryan Muncy and the electric guitar of Dan Lippel, the string quartet "Double Trance" and the vivid coloration of "Unbreathable Colors" for the solo violin of Miranda Cuckson. Everything bears a marked stamp of personal reference and inspiration.

Put it all together and you hear some uniquely wonderful Wang Lu, undoubtedly on the basis of this program one of the most important and accomplished composers working today. Strongly recommended.