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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Robert Pollock, Entertwined, Compositions from Five Decades, Cygnus Ensemble, NJ Percussion Ensemble


In the ever unfolding world of New Music sometimes it is all about how novel and unprecedented the music is on some level. Other times it is about how well written, how inventive it is. Today we have something of the latter. 

Robert Pollock is a name that did not ring bells for me when this CD arrived recently. Entertwined (Furious Artisans FACD6827), which is subtitled Compositions By Robert Pollock From Five Decades, is a program of some seven chamber works that are thoughtfully and lucidly made up in ways that hold their interest as a whole on first listen and distinguish themselves even more so with repeated listens.

The music has a logical flow to it in the capital /M/ Modern sense. Harmonically sophisticated and slightly edgy, the works hold together well while they keeps an exploratory sensibility that translates into novel solutions and avoids cliché.

Pollock stands out first of all for his imaginative scoring for the classical guitar, as heard on "Romance-Fantasy" for the Anderson-Forsyth guitar-piano duo, "Cygnature Piece" for the Cygnus ensemble of guitar, cello, mandolin, violin, oboe and flute. Then there is "Entertwined" for two guitars, "Metaphor" for solo guitar and "Revolution" for violin, contrabass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, marimba, percussion and guitar. Throughout the guitar writing is fresh yet idiomatic and enters into dialogs as a distinct yet equal participant.

On the other side of Pollock's instrumentation choices are his "Chamber Setting #2" for the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and "Metaphor" for solo vibraphone, both very interesting in their own right. These works reminds us of Pollock's heightened and naturally forward moving sense of rhythm, but then all the works have something of that going on.

The biographical details of Robert Pollock help us to situate him in space and time. He was born in New York City. He got his BA in Music from Swathmore College, followed by an MFA in Musical Composition from Princeton and a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. From there he embarked on a noteworthy career that has included organizing and presenting numerous concerts, headlining recitals and concerts as pianist, composer,  etc., founding-directing some key New Music composer guilds, serving as composer-in-residence for several institutions, and being the recipient of numerous awards and grants. After many decades and more than 149 compositions we enjoy some chamber gems in this album and look forward to more. 

The rather vast time span of this program, 1976-2007, forms a testament to his unflagging compositional imagination and steady unfolding development as an original voice that well deserves our recognition and appreciation.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Music From SEAMUS 30


In the '50s and '60s Electronic Music and Musique Concrete were the loci for some of the most advanced of the New Music being generated then. The advent of synthesizers of course changed the playing field and made it possible to do with much greater ease what the earlier composers had to do painstakingly--originally with extensive tape splicing and cumbersome single-tone generation. At some point the distinctly separate genesis of "organic" sounds transformed via Musique Concrete and the contrasting production of signals from purely electronic sources in Electronic Music began to break down (and perhaps had not been as rigidly adhered to in the US school from the beginning). Synthesized sound increasingly found their way into popular and commercial settings too so that today there has been a vast transformation of the sound landscape out there.

Yet of course Electronic Music as an art form in New Music has never disappeared so much as shared the aural stage with other genres. Sound color and the ability to execute musical complexities beyond the ability of the conventional instrumentalist were always key elements in the compositional mix. As time passed the concept of an aural landscape stretched out into virtual organic unfoldings of a continuously evolving and continuous expression began to become a key to the Electronic Music or Electro-Acoustic experience--though one could argue that it had already been very much present for example in Stockhausen's "Gesang der Junglinge" and "Kontakte." The term "Electro-Acoustic" became current, reflecting the melding that had taken place.

To fast forward into today, there is plenty of interesting music to be heard, including a flowering of live electronic possibilities and ever more poetic soundscapes out there. Anyone who follows this blog knows something of what has been taking place.

Cue the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS). It was founded in 1984. As their website states it is "a non-profit national organization of composers, performers, and teachers of electro-acoustic music representing every part of the country and virtually every music style. Electro-acoustic music is a term used to describe those musics which are dependent on electronic technology for their creation and/or performance." Their annual conference and juried recording projects are a key component to their presence on the scene today. 

And so we come to a recording of music coming out of their recent gatherings and projects, Music from SEAMUS 30 (EAM 2021 690277900495). It includes nine compositions that reflect the current state-of-the-art as practiced by SEAMUS Electro-Acoustic composers.

The opening "Monstress" (2019) for piano, Seaboard Rise and electronics by Christopher Biggs is a great place to start, for its skillful transformation and integration of the piano spectrum of sound into a widely colorful pallet of extensions.

Elizabeth Hoffman's "clouds pattern" (2021) give us another nicely eloquent sound color essay. 

From there we have additional works by Joo Won Park, Julie Herndon, Mei-ling Lee, Jiayue Cecilia Wu, Kelley Sheehan and Heather Stebbins. Lyn Goeringer ends the program with "Waterside," a rather haunting melange of acoustical transformations fascinating to hear and re-hear. Like many of these kinds of anthologies, there are works that appeal to me very much and others that I find less interesting. Part of that may have to do with whether the source materials have intrinsic interest to me in the first place. And that is not to say that we all will react to them in the same way, not that each has the considerable ambiguity in kind of aural Rorshact. But it is certainly true that meeting a work half-way helps you more often than not to understand the totality of it.

In the end such music deserves our support, such composers need an audience of serious listeners. The works that grab me make this experience worthwhile. I am glad that SEAMUS continues to thrive. Help support them by getting this music.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Harry Partch, The Bewitched, Harry Partch Ensemble, Danlee Mitchell


In a century remarkable for its musical fomentation (in the sense of a "poultice"), its inclusion of Harry Partch (1901-1974)  was perhaps one of the most revolutionary developments overall. His pioneering aggregation of an entire orchestra of newly invented instruments, his groundbreaking forays into alternate tuning and his compositional acuity made him special even in a special age.

The recording and release of his Delusion of the Fury after its 1969 premiere was perhaps the most decisive moment in recognition he was to experience in his lifetime. But of course there were other releases and performances that gradually built his reputation prior to this. 

Nowadays of course we happily find there is more of him to hear. For example his "dance satire" The Bewitched  has been performed and recorded more than once in later years. Not having experienced either I was glad to find that  Neuma Records has issued the 1980 Berlin performance of the Partch Ensemble under Danlee Mitchell. It is "binaural" and very much focused and clear enough that you get the idea of what it was like to sit in the audience.

The music combines some of Partch's home-made percussion complexities with conventional instruments and vocals. Because of that kind of mid-positioning aurally it is not nearly as dramatic as "Delusion" but for anyone who loves Partch it is a most welcome, ambitious addition to our understanding of his overall opus. It is worth your time.

For the reason of good performance I heartily recommend it to any Partch enthusiasts. If you do not know this one it will open up a new vista. Those that do not know Partch at all however might start with Delusion of the Fury. This one is essential for the Partch fan or completist. I am very happy to have it myself. I am glad to recommend it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Philip Glass, The Glass Hour, Gregory Harrington, World Premiere of The Hours Suite, Janacek Philharmonic, Mark Shapiro


Philip Glass of course has written many compelling works over his career. Some I like better than others, and some performances fully convince while others as with any music of this sort might fall a bit short at times.

Today I am happy to report in on a program of Glass works that fall into the former category. It is violinist Gregory Harrington with the Janacek Philharmonic uuder Mark Shapiro. The CD is entitled The Glass Hour (Estile Records) and it contains the world premiere recording of "The Hours Suite" for Solo Violin and String Orchestra plus the Violin Concerto No. 2 "The American Four Seasons".

Both works have Minimalist repetitions but often more as kinds of arpeggios in idiomatic string ways than as mesmeric hypnotics. The combination of violin solo unfolding and orchestral-string sound blanket seems nicely quasi-neo-Baroque more than typically Minimal and the sweetly reflective Harrington and enveloping orchestral wrap seem just right for this music.

Glass Hour, in short, has everything going for it. It is later Philip Glass at his best and Gregory Harrington puts it all together with Mark Shapiro and the Janacek Philharmonic for what seems to me destined to be the benchmark standard. Bravo!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Complete Violin Sonatas, Volume Three, Yuri Kalnits, Michael Csanyi-Wills


Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) has become after his death regarded as a major 20th century compositional voice. There are reasons of course why he got proper recognition only in this century and there is no need to explore that here. The main thrust of it all is our ability to be exposed to his music in a major way now. A great example of that is the recording of his Complete Violin Sonatas, of which we now have a Volume Three (Toccata Classics TOCC 0096).

Yuri Kalnits gives us a committed, dynamic and wonderfully expressive performance on violin throughout. Michael Csanyi-Wills compliments Kalnits nicely on piano, making a poetic twosome that I suspect the composer would be very happy about.

The opening Sonata No. 3 (1947) has marvelous depth, bitter-sweet, tart modern presence and a glorious sense of opening onto our musical perceptions. There is endless melodic-harmonic movement that Weinberg has in common with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and yet by this point (1947) he has his own way of unfolding it all.

The Sonata No. 3 for Violin Solo (1979) has dramatic torque and a finely exploratory resonance that gives us a leaner, more abstract projecting than the earlier work perhaps. It is fascinating and deep in its wholeness and Kalnits defines and realizes it with a grand flourish one appreciates.

The program is topped off  with the rather late (1982) Sonata No. 6 for Violin and Piano, which brings an expanded sense of space and time, a kind of meditative side more apparent and striking in how it all lays out.

After listening a good bit I must say that this volume in my view gives us some further aspects of Weinberg that help round out a portrait of him in chamber music form.

If you do a "Weinberg" search on the left-hand corner of this page you can find other related reviews I've done here. The Volume Three of the sonatas after living with for a week or so seems to me well worth your efforts to hear--for it gives us some gems of the later period and the performances are world-class. Very recommended.