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Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Lei Liang, Six Seasons, Mivos Quartet


Lei Liang gives us a most unusual work for a string quartet as a part of the source and inspiration for the boldly  sprawling soundscape Six Seasons (New World  80849-2). It centers around the Inuit Eskimos of Canada  and their ideas on the six seasons based on what they hear in their seascape habitat, the ever changing sounds they experience in daily life. These do nor follow strictly in some temporal order like do our winter-spring-summer-fall time blocks. Instead they are periodic but not so much continuous--each season gets its own separate movement, and then there is a final coda sequence.

The seasonal six movements are "New Ice," "Darkness," "Sunrise," "Migration," "Cacophony," and finally "Bloom." Laing placed underwater microphones in the ocean depths where Inuit live and then recorded water movement and freezing to ice, sea animals and fish, and the sound they might make in any given season, and then used those acquired sounds in tandem with scoring for extended sound production techniques for the members in the Mivos Quartet. 

The results are sound-noise innovations and soundscapes of a breathtakingly unexpected nature. He cites as influences the compositional advances and classic Contemporary assumptions that went into works by Crumb, Cage and Oliveros, "especially for the way they enlarged an instrument's sonic palette in the service of extra-musical concerns."

This music stands out after a few listens as very different. There is lots of tumbling free time, an overarching energized Free Improv feel, and a whole lot of sound art going on. Bravo. This may well end up as a milestone in the repertoire going forward. Do not miss it. Go on over to BandCamp to hear it and, if inclined, to order too:

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Ashley Bathgate, 8-Track, Minimalist Goodies for Cello(s)


When sometimes I feel like I am tired of Minimalism something good comes along and I pay attention and enjoy it all again. That is so with today's cello ensemble disk performed so very nicely by Ashley Bathgate overdubbing all parts. The album is entitled 8 -Track (New Focus Recordings, BandCamp) .

Ashley is a talented and dedicated cellist, a formidable artistic force for this sort of music, really mature and lively as much as beautiful in sound, a ravishing cello voice carefully creating multiple cello parts for some stunning  Minimalist works.  Each work follows the game plan of Steve Reich's Counterpoint series--that is, the performer plays a live part on top of  seven tracks previously recorded on the same instrument.

All the works we hear so deftly constructed on this unique album were written in this millennium in the Counterpoint plan and come alive in the doing. So we get the Steve Reich gem "Cello Counterpoint" (2013) that gives us the brilliant passagework juxtaposed with open and then figured long notes for a happy midperiod  musical romp fully worthy of the Reich name. Each composer in her or his very own way furthers our appetite for such explorations and productive emanations, so we hear in succession Fjola Evans, Emily Cooley, and two gems by Alex Weiser. Highly recommended.

Give it a listen on the BandCamp stream and if inclined place an order there (preorder if you read this in early summer of 2023): 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

A Left Coast, New Music Songs from British Columbia Performed by Tyler Duncan and Erika Switzer


Listeners to Classical and/or New Music may or may not ordinarily take some time to explore songs and songful lieder as part of what is out there to appreciate. In my humble opinion everybody should do so. Why?  If some have not spent much time in that universe if they did they might well discover an inviting  kind of alternate chamber possibility,  a world unto itself in many ways. Such a world may be considered and inhabited on a exploratory basis via the various surveys out these days in recorded form. You might well consider a new one that is nicely detailed and expressive, covering British Columbian byways, namely A Left Coast (Bridge Records 9574) featuring the significant artistry of baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Erika Switzer. It is series of some 18 songs or song suite  movements that they characterize as "A heartfelt playlist for British Columbia." 

That both artists and composers share an affinity with the Canadian province translates to a kind of unity of purpose for all the artists in ways not always present in a typical anthology. And here there too is an remarkably successful Expressionist commitment to the combined complexities of text recitation and musical performance. In the process Tyler Duncan shows us a classic heroic temperament that turns out nicely attuned dramatic fictions that live inside your listening musical being in ways worthy of your appreciation.

Pianist Erika Switzer has a poetic touch that makes of the lieder something timeless, not unModern but with a pronounced lifeway of heroic immediacy that the dedicated exceptional pianism serves to forward in  tandem with Duncan's beautifully nuanced delivery.

Each of the composer featured in this anthology has taught at the University of British Columbia's School of Music, and each as such represents one of the region's prime voices on the local new music scene. None follow some set Modernist path nor exactly a set New Classicism either.

So you may well appreciate as I did each of the compositional contributions to this vital anthology, they in fact consist of  Iman Habibi (b. 1985), Jean Coulthard (1908-2000), Jocelyn Morelock (1969-2023),  Stephen Chatman (b. 1950), Leslie Uyeda (b. 1953), Melissa Hui (b. 1966), Jeffrey Ryan (b. 1962)

Check out a video of one of the Habibi works at the following YouTube link:

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Brian Baumbusch, Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet, Premiere Recording


The synergies of Gamelan from Java and Bali with EuroAmerican Classical and New Music goes back a ways, from Debussy's and Ravel's fascination to Colin McPhee's dedication to Harry Partch and Lou Harrison's activation and so we go. The impetus remains a viable one as attested by today's new album of the music of Brian Baumbusch, the World Premiere recording of Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet (New World Records 80833-2), featuring Jack Quartet and Nata Swara, a Gamelan Ensemble for today.

This new series of works is weighted a bit more initially towards the energy of Balinese music than the more Apollonian contemplation of the traditional Javanese approach. And this Gamelan as representative of the Baumbusch synthesis is very much intrinsically and explicitly rooted in the music not as in some past hybrids,  familiar in sound but only tangential to what has been practiced in Javanese and Balinese forms over time, but quite the opposite as we hear in the opening "Prisms for Gene Davis."  The closing movement is especially moving with its busy swirl of convincing Gamelan figuration and the underlying long form melodic pattern, a different one from a traditional Balinese piece per se but functioning in the same way.

A work for string quartet alone follows, "Three Elements" from 2016. The sound color pattern is exhilarating and expressive with especially good use of harmonics in bowing and the like. The results are rather uncanny and fantastical, a pleasure to hear, original and very much its own sound color expression universe.

The final work combines the two ensembles and worlds for "Hydrogen(2)Oxygen," a virtual chemical reaction of sorts. First, we hear long bows and mallet punctuations that ravish in a momentum of pulsations of gamelan along with held variations of bowed string clusters. It is a vital amalgam much more than a simple joining; it is a music of reaction-interaction so to say. It is a satisfying unfolding in a new territory that is glorious in tone and temper, building to a tapestry of  periodicity, a sort of industrial revolution of timbres, and there we have the first movement . Then follows something wholly unique and sensuously sonic in happy ways. Eventually polyrhythmic and multiphonic, fittingly, an in- tandem conglomeration of notable hue. It all morphs with high-gloss string harmonics and a tattoo from the gamelan, then string twitters of quiet cricketude that expand and unfold in winning ways, with a prettiness unexpected but welcome nonetheless.

The final movement brings a new division of rhythmic labor with Western instruments at times splitting functions to create an ever-expanding and contracting duplex structure that transcends a hard and fast dichotomy of Gamelan and West.

In total we have an adventurous and musically throughgoing romp through inner and outer differential relations between Gamelan and New Music. Brilliant it all is. Bravo!

To stream the album and find out about ordering go to the bandcamp link.


Thursday, June 8, 2023

Roger Reynolds, For a Reason


My first exposure to the music of Roger Reynolds was pretty early on, when in  high school I found a New Music anthology that nicely included his chamber group opus from 1965 "Quick are the Mouths of  Earth." Thanks in part to the benchmark performances of the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble under Arthur Weinberg it was a bellwether for me in its uncanny soundscape of evocative Modernisms. Over the years  I have much appreciated the trajectory of Maestro Reynold's powerful works, and here we are with yet another notable offering at this late date. I refer to Reynolds latest recording of four interrelated works for performer (s) and electronics, For A Reason (Neuma 128), a fine two-CD set now out.

What stands out is Reynolds' care in building each sound poetics, so that we look at the finished performed result in its wealth of detail and see the Reynolds we have heard and loved over the years, evolved to hone in on an ever fine grained musical object that each time asserts a sound identity that gives us further entrance into a sonic depth most original, eloquent and effective.

The first half of the program on CD 1 gives  us two sonic adventures for acoustic instrument and direct electronic manipulations via "Computer Musician" Paul Hembree. So "Dream Mirror (Shakespace I)" enables a complex and vibrant acoustic guitar part realized by Pablo Gomez Cano and beautifully transformed in real time by Hembree.  "Shifting/Drifting (Shakespace IV)" does the same with the dynamic violin expressions as nicely realized by Irvine Arditti. 

The second half of the program starts with "Here and There," the considerably orchestral sequence  for close miked solo percussionist who also recites a deeply inner directed poetic text. Steven Shick takes on the daunting part of "Speaking Percussionist" with a true flair and an exciting artistry, a truly musical phrasing of the whole that works remarkably well. Shick combines a pronounced flourish and the precision of a master on this performance. Bravo. 

The program concludes with "Sketchbook, for the Unbearable Lightness of Being," which honors Kundera as it gives us Liz Pearce's extraordinarily music performance on piano and riveting  "low female voice." There is electronic processing here as well and in the end one comes away invigorated and impressed.

In the end we appreciate Reynolds' long journey toward this Sound Color rhythmically conversational eloquence which is less about notes per se and instead zeroes definitively into a post-Serial independence that nonetheless remains at the pinnacle of the High Modernist project.
Hearing the whole once more as I grasp the whole happily after a lot of listens, I feel we might all take some time and appreciate just how important Roger Reynolds has become to us as a master artist both original and transcendent. Definitely recommended. This bears close examination as a set of examples at the apex of this kind of intimate yet exotically vibrant sound performance practice.

Take a look at a few fantastic moments in the Shick performance of "Here and There!"


Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Debra Kaye, Ikarus Among the Stars, New Modern Works of Note

Living, breathing composer Debra Kaye has happily come to the attention of this blog with a few releases that nicely included her music (type her name in the search box above to access those articles). Now we hear a full CD devoted to her compositions, and a good thing that very much is. Ikarus Among the Stars (Navona NV 6521) brings together some six compositions from select chamber works through to a significant finale, the title work, commissioned by the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, filled with a most interesting fusionoid melding of Modern Orchestral and Contemporary Pop, Hip-Hop, and Prog Rock stylings that fascinate and move the needle forward on what can be done and done well in the Modern spheres. Sometimes I catch myself going to say, well this is tonal, but then I realize in the Modernity of today Atonality and/or Serialist ways are pretty much relegated to past masters, the no-longer active cadre of composers of yesterday and the day before yesterday. Of course that is not to say that noise and sound color options are not important these days in the avant garde, and good for that if done well.

To keep on the main point though this album affirms Ms. Kaye's stature as a singular voice for today's Modern scene. Each work gives us a world of its own, from 'The Exchange" and its brittle clarion voicings for clarinet and cello, to the serious, probingly inventive demeanor of the First String Quartet,  "Encountering Lorca."

Each work is a gem and together we find upon multiple listens a compelling argument for Debra Kaye as a key "new" voice in American music today. This music will give you a nice introduction to her music if you do not already know it. Bravo.

See this link to find out where to stream the album:

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Poul Ruders, Rudersol Chamber Players, Clarinet Quintet, Throne, Piano Quartet


Ours Records came out a while back with a nice recording of the music of Danush composer Poul Ruders. I was happy to check it out and review it.  See index box above for that article on his larger forces music as well his presence on a piano anthology.

Today we have a nicely moody addition of three chamber works penned between 1988 and 2016, well performed by the Rudersol Chamber Players, It covers his Clarinet Quintet, his Thrones, and his Piano Quartet (Our Recordings  6.220680).

These are deeply meditative, exploratorily modern works with an emphasis on well constructed chamber depth and close focus. The harmonic content is a nicely advanced modern sort with a good shade of dissonance to give it all distinctive character. It should appeal to all devoted Modernists out there but if you are not yet give this some time and it may convert you. Good show, bravo.

Sample some of his music on YouTube

Lowell Liebermann, Violin Concerto, Aiman Mussakhajayeva, Kazakh State Symphony Orchestra, Tigran Shiganyan


Living composer Lowell Liebermann is seemingly riding a wave of popularity unusual for a living artist as a rule, with many performances and much acclaim in recent decades that put him  toward the apex  of the contemporary scene. To further that end we have a  notable new recording of four concerted works for violin in the hands of superlative violinist Aiman Mussakhajayeva. She joins with the well prepared Kazakh State Symphony Orchestra under Tigran Shiganyan for a welcome premiere of four Liebermann works from the millennium and beyond, featuring the especially vital Violin Concerto of 2001 (Blue Griffin Records  BGR645). Also included are the well wrought companions of our current era in his Chamber Concerto No. 1 for violin and the composer at the piano in a new version for string orchestra as the ensemble,  and similarly the Chamber Concerto No. 2 for violin and string orchestra, and then finally the 2011 "Air" for violin and string orchestra.

There is real magic in this music, in some ways reminding of the essence of the Berg Violin Concerto in its expression drenched rhapsodizing, and perhaps also recalling indirectly the late Romantic lyricism of a Samuel Barber, not in obvious ways but effectively and poetically. It is tonal music in an inventive original mode while hearkening back as a glancing remembrance to Impressionist dazzling and shimmering  of light and sound last century, combined with a heightened expression not typical of the full Modern period but lively in the edges recalled of a long time past if you will. All four works have the real potential of joining the permanent repertory of classic concerto fare, deservingly.

This is music to stop questioning, to let play and find what the composer intends and then if of like mind, to surrender to most willingly.  It is a gem of a program to appreciate over a long time I would think. I recommend a listen for your understanding and then repeated listens, too. A good one for your latest Modern Concerto holdings. But that of course is up to you.

Stream the music starting at this link to get a glimpse of it all.