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Plainsound Glissando Modulation in Pasadena

Sat, 2017-10-14 11:26

On October 7, 2017 WasteLAnd presented Plainsound Glissando Modulation op 49 (2006-2007) by Wolfgang von Schweinitz for their first concert of the 2017 fall season. Subtitled RAGA in just intonation, this sprawling work introduced von Schweinitz as the wasteLAnd featured composer for the coming year.  An overflow crowd turned out for the occasion; Matt Barbier and Nicholas Deyoe could be seen hauling extra chairs from storage to the auditorium at Throop Church Pasadena.

Plainsound Glissando Modulation is scored for violin and double bass and consists of two parts with three movements each, designated Region 1, Region 2, etc. Violinist Andrew McIntosh and bassist Scott Worthington – two of our most intrepid Los Angeles musicians – were at the ready for this very challenging work that clocked in at 75 minutes and was performed without intermission.

Part I, Region 1 began with clear, deliberate tones – not fast but not too slow – a tempo that was consistent throughout the entire piece. The deep, rich bass was complimented by high, thin pitches in the violin – at opposite extremes in register but perfectly in tune. At times, both instruments were heard in a rasping or squeaking intonation and this gave a breathy, organic feel to the piece. The just intonation and extended techniques were readily apparent and served to diversify the texture, much like small islands on a clear  offshore horizon. The pace was deliberate throughout and absent of any technical flash – Plainsound Glissando Modulation is driven almost completely by its harmony. Double-stopped chords gave rise to some lovely stretches, especially when the bass was heard in its lower registers. Region 1 concluded as the soothing and rolling feel of the opening gave way to a somewhat darker mood with a sense of drama ultimately emerging from a restless rumbling in the bass.

Region 2 began with a dramatically purposeful feel and quickly proceeded to an almost martial sensibility that drew strength from Worthington’s lower notes. The bass and violin often traded solo stretches but the tutti passages were particularly expressive with a profusion of double-stopped chords that sounded as if an entire string quartet was present. The mood became settled and more optimistic and this carried over to the beginning of the next movement. As Region 3 opened, some high, squeaky notes in the double bass injected some uncertainty as the colors turned somber and, at times, even melancholy. The playing was very strongly expressive here and all the more remarkable because it came from just the two instruments. Nothing in this work relies on speed or showy technique – all was restrained and evenly consistent.

Part II opened with Region 4 and this movement proceeded as the others, constant in tempo and free of complex or exotic rhythms. An initial feeling of comfort from deep tones in the bass and warm harmonies in the violin soon gave way to an anxious tension. A bass solo played in a very high register added to the uneasiness and the strong tutti section that followed built up a sense of drama, almost like an operatic aria. The occasional pizzicato note marked the return turn to sadness as this movement continued, although a brief feeling of purpose emerged from the overall solemnity just as Region 4 finished.

Region 5 followed directly, the second movement of Part II. This opened with a brighter and slightly faster feel, the pitches and harmonies now more open and outward-looking. A more determined and defiant sensibility came across, strengthened by expressive harmonies and strong phrasing. Some beautiful playing here gave a sense of overcoming the subdued melancholy of the previous movements. Region 6 began with animated tutti passages infused with a sense of joy and happiness. Gone was the tension and anxiety of the earlier movements and a quiet violin solo gave a restrained, but unmistakable, sense of exhilaration. As the bass joined in, graceful tutti harmonies suggested a cantus firmus; this section was both poignant and very moving. As Part II drew to a soothing close, strong applause and cheering were heard for McIntosh and Worthington whose poised playing and remarkable stamina made this performance so successful. Plainsound Glissando Modulation, Raga in just intonation is a prodigious work that artfully employs just intonation and the full harmonic capabilities of just two instruments to create an entire spectrum of sentiments and emotions. Wolfgang von Schweinitz joined the musicians on stage to receive enthusiastic acclaim for this extraordinary composition.

Categories: New Music Blogs

New Kid in Town: Orchestra Moderne NYC Makes Carnegie Debut October 7

Fri, 2017-09-29 11:16

Orchestra Moderne, a new ensemble founded by conductor Amy Andersson in March, will debut at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 8pm with a program celebrating the legacy of immigration to America titled The Journey to America: From Repression to Freedom (Part 1).

The inaugural program features Peter Boyer’s Grammy-nominated work Ellis Island: The Dream of America, a haunting tribute to historic American immigration features seven actors reading stories chosen from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, accompanied by an emotional orchestral score and projected photos from the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Also on the program is Overture to Light by Emmy-winning composer Lolita Ritmanis, the world premiere of Steven Lebetkin’s compelling Violin Concerto with soloist Momo Wong, and the beloved Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.

Andersson is perhaps best known for bringing video game music and film scores to the classical concert hall through the music of Konji Kondo, the Japanese music composer, pianist, and sound director who works for Nintendo. She has led performances of Kondo’s The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses around the world. She is also a professor at the Berlin University of Arts, the music director at the CPE Bach Gymnaisum orchestra, and has led numerous opera productions in Germany.

Orchestra Moderne NYC aims to will engage audiences by performing music from film scores, video games, and concert music that is relevant and connected to the important cultural issues in our society. Its stated mission is “to create musical experiences that celebrate humanity and are connected to key social issues, resonating with diverse audiences of music lovers, and providing inclusive opportunities for all composers and performers including women and minorities.”

Tickets are available for purchase here and range from $17.50 to $50.

Categories: New Music Blogs

Sequenza – Sequenza! At Monk Space

Tue, 2017-09-26 07:52

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 saw the first concert of the season at Monk Space, and for this occasion Luciano Berio’s challenging Sequenza series of virtuoso pieces were performed by the top musicians in Los Angeles. The event was also a fund-raiser to support new music at Monk Space with the musicians generously donating their time and talents for this extraordinary concert. A full crowd wedged itself into the cozy spaces of the Koreatown venue to hear, as the poet Edoardo Sanguineti wrote “…the sequence of sequences, which is the music of musics according to Luciano.”

Each Sequenza is written for a different instrument and performed solo by a different musician, so to allow for set changes and the length of the program, the concert was held simultaneously in two spaces – the normal Monk Space warehouse and a smaller annex. It was impossible to hear all of the pieces, but everything was timed to allow those in the audience to move between the spaces and hear several different the pieces, even if they were not in the same place. The audience was politely careful to avoid entering or exiting during a performance and so this arrangement worked fairly well. I chose to stay in the warehouse for the first half of the concert and move to the annex after the intermission.

Before each Sequenza a few short lines from a Sanguineti poem were recited by Kirsten Ashley Weist. The first piece heard in the warehouse was Sequenza IV – Piano (1965), performed by Mari Kawamura and this began with a number of short, sharp chords followed by a series of complex phrases. There was no regular beat to follow but rather a chain of intricate and technically demanding passages, sometimes mixed with longer, sustained chords. There is a generally unsettled feeling to this music that often combined with the mysterious and uncertain. The intensity seemed to increase as the piece progressed, but the anxiety was occasionally relieved as the rapid phrases were allowed to ring out and decay into brief silences. Ms. Kawamura was duly focused and her technique proved equal to the difficulties of the score. Sequenza IV, with all its convolutions and complexities is anxious and disquieting music, but this was masterfully realized by Ms. Kawamura’s precisely passionate playing.

Sequenza XIVa (2002) for cello followed, while another version for bass was performed by Tom Peters as part of the program running in the annex. After the introductory lines of poetry, cellist Ashley Walters began Sequenza XIVa with soft drumming on the cello body and some lively pizzicato notes on the open strings. This made for an intriguing combination and it seemed as if there were two players on the stage. Strong arco passages soon followed, producing a somewhat somber feel but rapid strumming on the strings plus a series of rising and falling trills restored the complex character of this piece. Incredible sounds poured from the stage in a series of extended techniques that were variously angry and active, quiet and timid or occasionally warm and smooth. The texture constantly swirled and shifted, never settling for long. Ms. Walters was, however, in complete command of her instrument, extracting all of the colors – and then some – from the cello palette.

Sequenza VII – Oboe (1969) was next, performed by Paul Sherman. This began with a clean electronic drone issuing from a speaker on stage. The oboe entered matching this, then varying in pitch slightly so that the interactions between the two tones was clearly heard. The electronic drone approximated the timbre of the oboe, but remained continuous and never changed in pitch. Rapid scales and runs from the oboe followed, crossing through and weaving around the drone, and this worked into a kind of conversation between the two. The passages became increasingly complex – intense but always controlled – and brought to mind Coltrane in his final years. The playing of Paul Sherman was nimble yet precise and the close acoustics of the warehouse helpful in amplifying every detail. Sequenza VII is a formidable piece for the oboe and this performance elicited cheering and strong applause.

Sequenza X – Trumpet (1984) followed, performed by Dan Flores. This piece calls for the trumpet sounds to be directed at the piano strings occasionally for resonance, and Rafael Liebich was seated at the keyboard to oversee the sustain pedal. The trumpet began by issuing a series of strong single notes, followed by trills and rapid, spiky phrases. From time to time Flores turned to his right, aiming the bell of the horn towards the open piano. The piano strings resonated with the trumpet notes, ringing out into the audience with a sort of ghostly echo. The close confines and lively acoustics of the warehouse enhanced this effect which was all the clearer given the powerful playing by Mr. Flores. Sequenza X is just as complex as any of the pieces, as Flores described in the program notes: “As you can hear throughout the different sequenze, Berio offered both a consistent set of textures and effects he wanted created, ranging from trilled notes on one pitch, frantic scale runs, and extreme dynamic contrasts, to more instrument native ideas.” Although intense and energetic, Flores filled this piece with a strength and confidence that was never aggressive or intimidating. Sequenza X was performed with prodigious stamina and exemplary consistency – the intonation and tone were as strong at the finish as they had been at the beginning – a difficult piece played with vigor and grace.

After the intermission, three more sequenze were performed in the annex, a smaller space off the main entrance. This was about one third the size of main warehouse space and so even more intimate. Jason Barabba introduced Sequenza V – Trombone (1966) with a few lines of poetry by Sanguineti, and Matt Barbier took the stage to begin. A sharp note was sounded from the muted trombone followed by a series dramatic wah-wah effects along with some mysterious vocal sounds between breaths. Barbier’s playing was strong and confident, even when the passages became rapidly animated and technically challenging. All of this was done without any score in view, Barbier having studied this piece as a student as he explained in the program notes: “…the piece does have a very nostalgic place for me as when I started to learn it I ended up having about ten days to do so for a master class with Mike Svoboda. That moment laid the foundation for our relationship and Mike has been an incredibly helpful resource as I’ve found my own creative path.” As the piece progressed, the sounds coming from the trombone increased in variety, including growls, something resembling a motor boat and booming phrases followed by brief silences. Barbier’s playing was powerful but controlled, and he produced an astonishing array of effects from the trombone with casual ease.

The final two sequenze in the annex program followed. The first of these was Sequenza VIII – Violin (1976), performed by Andrew McIntosh and for this no fewer than five music stands were lined up together, each holding a page of the score. Sharp, plaintively anxious chords began this, followed by more and increasingly complex phrases. The sounds became more animated as the piece progressed, but this did not disturb the composure and poise of McIntosh as he methodically worked his way down the row of music stands. Many different dynamics and textures came and went; some phrases were full of small, quietly detailed notes, others realized with broadly strong chords – and everything in between. All of this unfolded with the careful attention to detail so characteristic of McIntosh’s playing and the audience responded with extended applause.

The final piece in the annex program was Sequenza XI – Guitar (1987) performed by Mak Grgić. This was every bit as complex as the other sequenze, but the conventional sounds of the classical guitar seemed to soften the agitation despite the many notes. Strong strumming added energy and and a sense of forward motion, and the extended techniques at times broke through the overall sense of familiarity – but this piece never felt anxious or uncomfortable. The feeling was most often warm and graceful, even through the more intense stretches. The technique by Grgić was flawless as he scrolled through the score using a foot pedal connected to an iPad placed on a music stand. Loud cheering and applause followed this exceptional performance.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this concert was just how far Berio pushed the envelope for each instrument – almost, but not quite, exceeding what was possible for the virtuoso to actually play. That each of these was successfully carried out – and that Los Angeles has the personnel capable of such prodigious playing – is a credit to our local musicians. Sequenza – Sequenza! was an amazing demonstration the great artistry resident in our new music community and much credit goes to the Tuesdays@Monk Space organization for making this extraordinary concert possible.

Other players in Sequenza – Sequenza! were:
Sequenza IX – Clarinet (1980), Brian Walsh
Sequenza VI – Viola (1967), Diana Wade
Sequenza II – Harp (1963), Elizabeth Huston
Sequenza XIVb – Bass (2002, rev 2004), Tom Peters
Sequenza XII – Bassoon (1995), Jonathan Stehney
Sequenza I – Flute (1958 rev. 1992), Sara Andon
Sequenza III – Voice (1965), Stacey Fraser

Categories: New Music Blogs

Bruce Brubaker at LPR

Sun, 2017-09-24 13:35

Bruce Brubaker.
Photo: Yang Bao

Bruce Brubaker

Le Poisson Rouge

September 17, 2017

Sequenza 21

By Christian Carey


NEW YORK – Pianist Bruce Brubaker has long been known as one of the best interpreters of Downtown contemporary music around. His is a versatile catalogue of recordings, including excellent CDs of works by John Adams, John Cage, Alvin Curran, William Duckworth,  and Meredith Monk. However, despite an increasingly crowded field of pianists exploring the works around the composer’s eightieth birthday, Brubaker’s renditions of Philip Glass have few parallels; the 2015 InFiné recording Glass Piano is required listening.


Brubaker’s latest project, a recording titled Codex, also on InFiné, is slated for November release. It explores two interests new to his recorded catalogue: one the comparatively recent piano repertoire of Terry Riley, and the other culled from one of the oldest manuscripts of keyboard compositions extant: The Faenza Codex. This early Fifteenth century document provides a tantalizing glimpse into the instrumental music of that era.


The juxtaposition of the highly ornamented and rhythmically diverse selections of material from the Codex with Riley’s equally subtle Keyboard Study #2 (1964-’65), presented in two parts (which, Brubaker explained, was separate passes through the piece’s circular complex of pitch notations – the rhythms are free –  to render two different results). Although ostinatos are the hallmark of Riley’s style,  Brubaker managed to supply two different sets of repeating gestures, significantly varying the two iterations of Study #2.


The Codex examples were even more interesting in deployment. As it isn’t precisely clear where the two staves line up all the time, one performance’s dissonance on a weak beat can be another’s consonance on a strong one. After playing the first half of the concert, the pianist remarked,”That last Codex piece was from 1420; it might be the oldest piece yet to have been played at Le Poisson Rouge!”


Brubaker’s interpretation of the Codex pieces evolved too. At first he played with a delicate approach that imitated early keyboard instruments. However, by the last Codex offering, Brubaker found a more pianistic approach to be appropriate, allowing J’ay Grant Espoir significantly more melodic heft than previous pieces.

The new album’s fare, and its juxtaposition, is fascinating. Two pieces of Glass’s music were on offer as well, superlatively played and thoughtfully interpreted. Like Glass himself, Brubaker doesn’t lend these pieces the motoric character that more rigid performers impart to them. Instead, there is a supple character, significant shadings of dynamics, and small tempo alterations that allow the works to breathe Romanticism in midst of their minimal processes. The standout was Mad Rush, an extended essay in which a reiterated minor third is the jumping off point for a host of variations in a plethora of harmonic directions. Wichita Vortex Sutra served as an equally compelling encore.


During shows at LPR, one often hears the clinking of glasses and whispered conversations — that’s the nature of a club atmosphere and customers and wait staff alike are usually reasonably discreet. For Brubaker’s set, you could have heard a pin drop, especially during Mad Rush. Kudos to attentive listening.


Set list


Codex Faenza: Constantia


Terry Riley: Keyboard Study 2


Codex Faenza: Indescort


Codex Faenza: Che pena questa (Landini)


Philip Glass: Mad Rush


Codex Faenza: Elas mon cuer


Terry Riley: Keyboard Study 2 (continuation)


Codex Faenza: J’ay grant espoir


Philip Glass: Wichita Vortex Sutra




Encore – Philip Glass: Metamorphosis 3


Categories: New Music Blogs

Michael Vincent Waller -Trajectories in Santa Monica

Sun, 2017-09-17 19:17

On Thursday, September 7, 2017 the Soundwave Concert Series in Santa Monica presented music from Trajectories, the new CD from Michael Vincent Waller released this month on the Recital label. Pianist R. Andrew Lee, in town from Denver, and cellist Seth Parker Woods from Chicago were on hand to perform, having recorded the album in Kansas City last year. A good-sized crowd assembled in the Martin Luther King Auditorium to hear this latest release from the New York-based Waller.

by itself (2016), for solo piano, was first up on the program and the album notes by “Blue” Gene Tyranny  state that this piece “…describes a quiescent state of solitude but leaves the specific image to the mind of the listener.” The opening notes fall quietly from a simple chord and have that gentle, inward-looking feel so characteristic of Waller’s music. No heavy-handed chords or bold declarative statements disturbed the smoothly tranquil texture. Subtle and almost nostalgic in prospect, the economy of musical materials and the Lydian mode scale combined to agreeably invoke a state of quiet contemplation. The acoustics in the hall complimented the playing by R. Andrew Lee, who perfectly realized the understated essence of the score. Not quite six minutes long, by itself carries the listener on an inward journey so intriguing that time seems to be in suspension.

Visages (2015) followed, a piano solo in eight short sections and on this occasion five were selected for performance. Each of the sections offered a different musical visage and these were variously flowing, animated and purposeful, dance-like, questioning or quietly introspective. As with by itself, Visages is typically quiet and reserved, but there are the familiar elements of strong melody, repeating chords and counterpoint that serve to set the tone and color of each of the sections. The sections are typically brief – just a few minutes in length – but always long enough to establish a particular point of view about the subject. The sensitive playing of R. Andrew Lee was always in complete control of the delicate contours and balance of each section.

Cellist Seth Parker Woods joined R. Andrew Lee for Lines (2016), a duo that also included a video by Richard Garet projected on the screen at the rear of the stage. This opens with a rich cello line and simple piano accompaniment; the video was filled with scenes of various East Coast watery places. The music is restful and nostalgic – like pleasant memories floating by – and perfectly complimented the images on the screen. The cello line dominated for most of the piece and this was confidently played, yet sensitive and expressive. A short pizzicato section changed the mood slightly, but the return to arco phrasing served only to increase the sense of underlying longing. In the final minutes the mood turned remorseful, enhanced by some lovely playing by Woods in the lower registers of the cello.  The piece finished on a beautifully shaped low cello note followed by a softly echoing piano arpeggio. Lines is wonderfully interior music, made from thoughts and memories as much as by notes and sound.

Breathing Trajectories (2016) followed, a piece in three parts for solo piano. Part I begins with a series of simple phrases consisting of single notes – typically starting with an open fifth or octave – and completed with a dissonant tone. All of this is softly subdued, focusing the listener’s attention on the interaction of the sounds in each phrase. The effect of the third tone on the sustained ringing sound of the first two adds an element of uncertainty and as this pattern is repeated, a kind of question and answer conversation ensues. There is no other form or structure, yet these sequences of solitary notes are quietly thought provoking.

Part II extends this concept, this time with chord arpeggios that are allowed to ring out so that their component colors refract into the listener’s imagination. The interactions of the tones again drive the perceived feelings, and these are generally warm and reassuring, but also distant or uncertain. A series of slow trills and rapid melodic lines brighten the mood before slowing again to a peaceful finish. Part III opens with stronger and more substantial chords, firmly grounded in the lower registers. Rapid arpeggios follow and this adds a bit of dynamism and grandeur. The texture is not as spare here, flowing more easily, with the melody and harmony interweaving into familiar patterns that feel like the logical outcome of the preceding parts.

The final piece on the program was Laziness (2015), a cello and piano duo in three parts. According to the CD liner notes the ‘laziness’ refers to “…the dispirited state of confusion brought on by mixed emotions..” This is manifested in Part I by a series of quiet chords in the opening that sometimes vary from major to minor modes within a given phrase. Combined with the expansive cello line, a sense of disquiet is established. Part I ends with three ominous notes in the deep piano register – not unlike a knock of fate. Part II begins with a much more optimistic feeling, a moving piano line filled with bright sunshine and a warm cello accompaniment that carries a sense of renewed purpose. However this soon turns gloomy and a bit portentous as the tempo slows and the cello line descends downward. Minor key phrases appear at times and a feeling of uncertainty and agitation persist to the end.

Part III begins with repeating piano phrases, uptempo and full of movement and determination. The sustained cello line floats below, content to let the piano dominate. About midway through, the piano and cello engage in a kind of conversation that is full of briskly intertwining notes and repeating figures. Slower phrases enter and exit, adding a certain ambiguity to the initial sense of ambition and heightening the sense of mixed emotions. Laziness pivots nicely back and forth between confidence and doubt, leaving the listener to decide which path to take.

Overall, Trajectories is music for the interior imagination. Sometimes music comes to us in a great symphonic fury, sometimes in bold declarative statements or in bright, vivid colors. The music of Trajectories comes to us quietly – almost as if we are hearing our private thoughts – and is all the more engaging as a result.

The CD has been carefully mastered and edited so that all the nuance and detail of the music has been precisely preserved. Credit for this is due to Sean McCann of Recital, Denis Blackham of Skye Mastering and Ryan Streber of Oktaven Studios. The CD cover booklet features photography by Phill Niblock.

Trajectories is available directly from Recital and also at Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and other digital outlets.

Categories: New Music Blogs

The Proms–main attractions and bold tendencies–Tarrodi, Larcher, Barry, Whitley, Adams, Kendall, Walker

Thu, 2017-09-07 08:11

There are certain concerts where there is a new piece which is clearly not the main item on the program. Sometimes a visiting orchestra will include a work by a composer from its country; sometimes it seems to be more or less an afterthought; sometimes a more integral part of the program, but still not the most important or central part. The earlier Prom on August 30, presented by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, began with the first UK performance of Liguria by Andrea Tarrodi, which clearly fell into the first category. Liguria commemorates a visit its composer made to the “Cinque Terre,” five villages on the Ligurian coast of Italy. She describes the work as a ‘walking tour’ of them. The work is very attractive; far from the least of its impressive and appealing aspects being the expert and highly polished orchestration; its notes are not at all bad, either. Despite the composer’s description, the work had very little local color. It could just as well, from the sound of it, have been about a place in Sweden. The titles of its six sections, which follow on each other without a break, are generic (Waves, Horizon, Blue Path, Colors, Mountains, Stars), rather than geographically specific. Neither the shaping of the sections nor the articulation of their ends is very clear. The first two or three have the same material, so it’s not easy to follow the progress of the whole work. The character of the music changes at one point, but it’s not completely clear which movement it might be. In the end, Virgil Thomson’s pronouncement on the Egmont Overture could apply to Tarrodi’s Liguria: It was “the classic hors d’oeuvre. Nobody’s digestion was ever spoiled by it and no latecomer has ever lost much by missing it.” In the case of this concert, the main event was Renée Fleming who sang Knoxville: Summer of 1915 by Samuel Barber as well and as movingly as the great recordings by Eleanor Steber and Eileen Farrell. The concert also included the Transformation Scene from Daphne by Stauss, also with Flemming, and the Nielsen Symphony No. 2.

The main event of the Prom presented by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Robin Ticciati was either the magisterial and beautiful performance of the Berg Violin Concerto by Christian Tetzlaff or the Schumann Third Symphony, but it also included the first UK performance of Nocturne–Insomnia by Thomas Larcher. Larcher is a very accomplished, to say the least, composer whose music is polished, meticulously composed, and beautifully heard–every thing about it is completely beyond reproach. This piece does absolutely everything that one would imagine that a piece called Insomnia would do, and does it with great style and expression, but nothing that one might not have thought of. Larcher’s program notes make statements about ‘tonal music,’ ‘the newer tonal music,’ and ‘tonal threads’ as though absolutely everybody knows exactly what he means. The piece itself makes Larcher’s meanings of some of these statements manifest.

Beethoven (Leonora Overture No. 3 and Symphony No. 5) seemed to be the big draw for the completely packed Prom on August 21, which was presented by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, but it also included the Stravinsky Violin Concerto, played with elegance and vigor by Leila Josefowicz, who also played, as an encore, Lachen verlernt by Esa-Pekka Salonen, which is a very snappy and appealing piece, as well as the first performance of Canada! by Gerald Barry, which was a BBC commission, with vocal soloist (both speaking and singing) Allan Clayton.

Clearing security at the Toronto airport on his way back to Dublin where he lives, the text of The Prisoners’ Chorus from Fidelio by Beethoven, came into Barry’s mind (…What joy in the open air! Breathing freely again! Only here is life! Only here!). Those words, in English, French, and German, proceeded by the name Canada! are the bulk of the text of his work, which is, in the orchestra, a sort of frenetic and wacky set of folk dances from some imaginary country (probably not the Canada of real life, but possibly of his imaginary Canada). For a long stretch of the work the word Canada is deconstructed into its component syllables by the soloist and then repeated many times until it has no meaning at all. Finally the members of the orchestra, shouting and then, at the prompting of the soloist, repeating quieter and quieter, join in proclaiming Canada!, finally admonished by the soloist, “Speak softly! We are watched with eyes and ears.” The work is some combination deadpan humor and dead serious earnestness which is compellingly engaging and lingers strongly in the memory. Both Clayton and the orchestra performed the piece meticulously and brilliantly.

On August 26, one of the Proms away from the Albert Hall, was presented at the Bold Tendencies Multi-Storey Car Park, a disused Sainsbury car park (multi-storied) in Peckham which has been transformed into a community arts center, and the home base of The Multi-Story Orchestra. After the opening piece, Granville Bantock’s orchestration of Bach’s chorale prelude on “Wachet auf” BWV645, the orchestra, joined by the Multi-Story Youth Choir, comprised of local young people aged 8-12, in its inaugural performance, presented the first performance of I am I say by Kate Whitley, who with Christopher Stark, the orchestra’s conductor, is one of the founders of the orchestra. I am I say concerns itself with the valuing and protection of the world around us, setting a text by Sabrina Mahfouz with an additional stanza written by the choir. The choir sang clearly and beautifully, with perfect diction, which was not quite equaled by that of the two adult soloists, Ruby Hughes soprano and Michael Sumuel bass-baritone, although they were given music to sing which made clarity of diction a great deal harder to accomplish. Whitley’s music is in a sunny and handsome post-modernish style, and the work was convincing and enjoyable. It was followed by one of founding post-modern, maximal post-minimalist works, Harmonielehre by John Adams. The orchestra’s performance of this very intricate and difficult piece was committed and compelling and benefitted from and added to the sense of occasion and the beautiful sunny day. All the way through the concert there was a noise that also enhanced somehow, rather than distracted from, the performance. After a while I realized that it was the sound of passing trains on the very near tracks.

The late night Prom on August 30 also featured another admirable local orchestra Chineke!, which was founded to provide career opportunities for young Black and Minority Ethnic musicians. The concert opened with the first performance of The Spark Catchers by Hannah Kendall, which was a BBC Commission. The work takes the title of a poem by Lemn Sissay which commemorates an 1888 strike by women who worked in the factory of the Bryant and May Match Company. (The London Olympic Park is on the site of the factory). It follows an arc from a very lively opening, brimming with irregular nervous energy, through a suspended urgent lyric section, which gradually accumulates faster music, and after a return of a good deal of the earlier material combined, has a slightly inconclusive ending. The Spark Catchers is masterly and effective and Chineke! and their conductor, Kevin John Edusel, gave it a polished and convincing performance. The concert also included Lyric for Strings by George Walker, which is a short and very beautiful work. Following programming tradition of earlier days on the Proms, the program included three short pieces featuring the wonderful soprano Jeanine De Bique and two featuring the astounding young ‘cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason; it ended with a performance of Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov. All the playing by the orchestra was first-rate and the concert was, all the way through, wonderful.

All of these performances are available for listening at

Categories: New Music Blogs

The Proms–Elgar/Payne, Glass/Shankar, Mingus/Metropole,Schoenberg

Wed, 2017-08-30 00:48

Three works on the Proms in August raised issues of authorship and authenticity, among other things. Sir Edward Elgar in the last two years of his life was engaged in the composition of his Third Symphony, which had been encouraged by his friend George Bernard Shaw and commissioned by the BBC. When he died in February of 1934, he left 130 pages of sketches, mostly in short score with few indications of instrumentation, and for many years they were given little attention, and the work considered lost. Anthony Payne, a considerable composer himself, who has had a scholar’s interest in British music of that period, was engaged with the sketches for the Third Symphony starting in 1972, but only in 1993, when he did some work on realizing some of the work for a BBC workshop, did he engage seriously with the project of reconstructing the whole work. In 1996, after some initial resistance, and realizing that the sketches would come into public domain in 2005 anyway, the Elgar family, who controlled the copyright for the sketches, commissioned Payne to do a completion of the work. The completed work, (joining the rank of works such as the Mozart Requiem, completed, and with certain sections composed altogether by Süssmayr), officially called an elaboration, was first performed in 1998. The sketches gave hints of what Elgar’s intentions were for most of the work, but for the last movement, Payne had to more or less compose the bulk of it, and, for that matter, decide what its form was to be (“…I felt that the breadth of the expository material in the sketches pointed towards a sonata form.”). For this listener, the last movement is the least satisfying and, in fact, the least characteristically Elgarian. The orchestration in general seems a little less characteristic than one might expect. I thought at one point in the first movement, feeling that it was a little leaner than it should be, that it in a certain way was a parallel experience to hearing the 1947 version of Petrushka. As with other aspects, whether it might be characteristic of what Elgar might have himself done late in his career is anybody’s guess. In any case, the performance, by the BBC Symphony, conducted by Sakari Oramo, was committed and poetic and was certainly in high Elgarian style. The first half of that concert included Scènes historiques–Suite No. 1 by Sibelius and the Saint Saëns second piano concerto, with soloist Javier Perianes, both very well played, and both leaving me with a feeling that both of those composers were really good.

A different sort of reconstruction was represented by the late night Proms on August 15, presented by The Britten Sinfonia, Anoushka Shankar, Gaurav Mazumdar, Ameen Ali Khan, Nick Able, Ravichandra Kulur, Pirashanna Thevarajah, M. Balachandar, Sanjul Sahal, and Alexa Mason, conducted by Karen Kamensek. They played the first live performance of Passages, a collaboration between Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass from 1990. Recorded in a studio directly to disc, the work had never been given a live performance until this one. Each of the collaborators wrote three of the six tracks on the record, although who wrote which wasn’t specified, either on the album of in the program for this concert. The interview with Karen Kamensek quoted in the program speaks of large chunks of the Shankar movements having been re-barred to facilitate performance with a limited rehearsal schedule. The playing of this clearly rhythmically complex and sophisticated music was, all around, effortless and natural and enormously fluent and expressive. The content, to this listener, seemed negligible, if not non-existent.

The Prom on August 24 was focused on/dedicated to the music of Charles Mingus. It was presented by the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Jules Buckley, joined by Shabaka Hutchings, bass clarinet, Bart van Lier, trombone, Leo Pellegrino, baritone saxophone, Christian Scott, trumpet, and Kandace Springs, vocalist. Since jazz musicians are, as Gunther Schuller said, composing performers, the music even that the same players play will be different from performance to performance, and certainly from one performer, or one group of performers to another. So it is not surprising that the performances of Mingus’s works by a 56 piece orchestra, highly produced, mic’d and mixed, would have a different sound and texture and affect than the original recordings (which were certainly not the same as any other performance by the same performers) by Mingus and his, usually 5-7 associates. The end product of these very very fine players, I think, probably told us more about them and their very very fine playing than about Mingus’s music in any sort of faithful to the original way (achieved by the performance of the Glass/Shankar). In this case, of course, that wasn’t the aim. This is not to take anything away from the quality of the players involved or to disparage their playing in any way, but rather to state a perception, if not a fact. In any case, the playing was fine. It sounded beautiful and it swung. The program listed pieces by Mingus to be played in a certain order. At the beginning, Buckley, announced, very quickly and in an offhand manner that the order was going to be different. The program then proceeded without further commentary, so that if one didn’t know the specific Mingus pieces beforehand, and my guess is even if one did, it was difficult, if not impossible to tell which was which.

A fourth piece, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, which was performed on August 19 by Eva-Maria Westbroek (Tove), Simon O’Neil (Waldemar), Karen Cargil (Wood-Dove), Peter Hoare (Klaus the Fool), Christopher Purves (Peasant), and Thomas Quasthoff (spearker), with the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus, Orfeó Català, and the London Symphony Chorus, conducted by Simon Rattle, might be included along with the other three, since, in a certain sense, the Schoenberg who conceived and began the work, in 1901, was not the same Schoenberg who took it up again in 1910 and finished it in 1911, due to the change in his outlook and in the style and character of the music he was writing. In any case the work’s excessiveness, its lusciousness of instrumental sound and harmony, the great craft of its composition, and its singlemindedness in pursuit of its composer’s vision are commonalities in the works of both those Schoenbergs. It is not all that often, due to the length, difficulty, and required forces, that one has a chance to hear Gurrelieder. Any performance of it creates what W. H. Auden called a high holy day of the soul. One as fine and devoted and beautiful as this one raises the level of that attribute even higher.

All of these concerts are available for 30 days after their broadcasts via the BBC Proms website.

Categories: New Music Blogs

Friday: Locrian plays JLA

Thu, 2017-08-24 15:28

John Luther Adams

Locrian Chamber Players’s mission is clear: they play the very newest contemporary classical fare: selections must have been written in the last decade to be programmed. This time out, the focus is on the music of John Luther Adams, including his setting of the late Alaskan poet John Haines’s “Cosmic Dust,” performed by the group’s regular vocalist, mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (Anonymous Four, Ekmeles), and the New York premiere of the string quartet “untouched” (2015). “Fortunate Ones,” by the group’s director, David MacDonald, will receive its world premiere. The program also includes music by Adrienne Albert, Aaron Alter, Caroline Mallonee, and Andrew Lovett. As is Locrian’s custom, you will find out more about these composers, but only if you stick around: program notes aren’t distributed until the end of the show.


Friday, August 25 at 8PM
10th Floor Performance Space, Riverside Church
490 Riverside Drive,
New York, NY 10027
(212) 870-6700

The concert is free. A reception will follow.



John Luther Adams- Untouched***
John Luther Adams- Cosmic Dust Poem
Adrienne Albert- Daydreams***
Aaron Alter- Introspective Blues No. 1***
Caroline Mallonee- Clock It***
Andrew Lovett- Fortune’s Will
David Macdonald- Fortunate Ones*

* World Premiere ** U.S. Premiere *** New York Premiere

Anna Elashvili and Cyrus Beroukhim, violin; Miranda Sielaff, viola; Greg
Hesselink, cello; Andrew Rehrig, flute; Emily Wong, piano; Jacqueline
Kerrod, harp; Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, mezzo-soprano


Categories: New Music Blogs

BBC Proms 2017–Elias, Weir, Turnage, and INSPIRE

Thu, 2017-08-24 02:11

The Prom presented on August 9 by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, featured the first performance of Brian Elias’s Cello Concerto, which was a BBC commission. It was written for and is dedicated to Natalie Clein, who had to withdraw from the concert due to illness. The soloist in her stead was Leonard Elschenbroich, who despite coming late to the party, gave no indication of any kind of lack of preparation. The Cello Concerto is an imposing piece in four continuous movements, lasting twenty five minutes. A grandly rhetorical first movement, is followed by a scampering scherzo in a rotating variation form modeled after that of the poetic form of the sestina, a still and intense slow movement, and a final movement which eventually disappears quietly and somewhat inconclusively into a reminiscence of the very beginning material of the piece in a much higher register. The whole work operates at a quite high level of intensity while incorporating many different moods, speeds, and textures. The orchestration is masterly, and deals completely successfully with the great challenge of writing a piece for ‘cello and orchestra: making sure that the soloist doesn’t get covered up by the orchestra. The soloist in this piece can always be heard, playing just about continuously in many different registers and at many different speeds of figuration. The intensity of the work, along with and despite its considerable variety is what lingers most in the this listener’s mind. The performance by both Mr. Elschenbroich, playing the very difficult solo part, and the orchestra was just about flawless.

The concert began with Britten’s Ballad of Heroes for chorus, in this case the BBC National Chorus of Wales, and tenor soloist Toby Spence. It is an early work, written to honor the British members of the International Brigade who fought in the Spanish Civil War, setting poems of W. H. Auden and Randall Swingler which give somewhat mixed messages. It may be those mixed messages that, despite its apparent technical flawlessness, make it in the end not completely successful or satisfying. The concert also included an arrangement/orchestration by Elgar of a Purcell anthem, Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, in which the orchestra gave full evidence of their complete technical as well as their wonderful expressive abilities.

In continuing a tradition of doing some Proms at locations other than the Albert Hall, the concert in the afternoon of August 12, by the BBC Singers and members of the Nash Ensemble, conducted by David Hill, was presented in Southwark Cathedral. There has been a cathedral building on the site for centuries, although the present building, I’m told by an art historian friend of mine, is mostly Victorian. In any case it is a beautiful building, giving the sense of isolation and quiet despite its being right next to London bridge and surrounded by Borough Market. The program consisted of a Mass (Confitebor tibi, Domine) by Palestrina, the motet by Palestrina to which it is related by text and material, and the first performance of In the Land of Uz, commissioned by the BBC from Judith Weir, continuing her long association with the BBC singers.

In the Land of Uz is a thirty-five minute work for chorus, tenor solo, and narrator, setting big chunks of and telling the story of the book of Job. Weir describes it as a “dramatic reading” of the text. The story is a contemplation of God’s ways to man, in which God, apparently for reasons of vanity mostly, allows Satan to subject Job to psychological and, eventually, physical distress, and then when Job complains, basically says, “Who do you think you are;” then, when Job repents of complaining, restores his health and fortune. In Weir’s work the singing and speaking is accompanied by a rather unusual ensemble consisting of organ with viola, double bass, soprano saxophone, trumpet, and tuba. The instrumentation might be in the tradition of the Schutz Kleine geistliche Konzerte, although the sound of the saxophone and some of the viola writing seemed to evoke, either intentionally or unintentionally, Vaughan Williams’s Job. In any case the organ is the constant and dominant instrumental sonority, the other instruments being used occasionally and never all at the same time–-the saxophone, for instance, appears in conjunction with Job’s friends (as in the Vaughan Williams), the trumpet with the voice out of the whirlwind, and the viola in association with Job, whose words are sung both by the tenor and the chorus. Both the Weir and the Palestrina made full use of the acoustic of the cathedral, and received excellent performances.

The Prom on August 14, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kazushi Ono, included, along with the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and the Ravel Piano Concerto in G, the first European performance of Hibiki by Mark-Anthony Turnage. Although commissioned to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Hibiki, whose title means ‘resonance’ or ‘echo’ in Japanese, became a commemoration of the offshore earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. It is a substantial piece, in seven movements, scored for two female singers, children’s chorus, and large orchestra, and lasting fifty minutes. The first two movements, whose titles, Iwate and Miyagi, are the names of the two coastal prefectures struck by the tsunami, are for orchestra alone. The first consists of fast music made of a texture of syncopated fragments layered on top of each other, the second features slow brooding music interrupted by an increasing number of brutal tutti chords. The third and fourth movements introduce the singers, the two soloists singing a translation of a poem by Sō Sakon called ‘Running’ which describes the poet’s escape as a child in 1945 from an incendiary bombing raid on Tokyo in which his mother, who fell behind, was killed; followed by the children’s choir singing a setting of a translation into Japanese of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. Those are followed by another orchestral movement, ‘Suntory Dance’, and then two other vocal movements, the first for mezzo-soprano, setting ‘On the Water’s Surface,’an English translation of a poem by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, and the concluding movement with all the forces whose text is the word ‘Fukushima” repeated many times.

Turnage is certainly a master of orchestration and orchestral writing and his great skill is abundantly clear and always impressive throughout Hibiki. There are some points, though, about which one might quibble: In the third movement, the poem implies a contrast between the frenetic activity of the running away from the bomb and a more slow-motion internal state, and the music of the setting acknowledges that a little towards the end, but could have benefitted by its being more central to the concept of the movement, and more immediately so early on in the piece. There are some places, the ‘Suntory Dance’ being the most obvious, where orchestration and texture seem to be being used to build intensity and energy, but without a corresponding harmonic movement, causing it to have a sense of staticness which I think was probably not what was intended. The last movement, which seems to evoke both the end of Das Lied von der Erde and the end of the Britten War Requiem, with the many repetitions of the single word, is, for this listener, the least successful. It’s a little hard to tell how well the piece works as a complete span, since Kazushi Ono pretty clearly took no pains at all, despite producing an otherwiese exemplary performance, to make any connections, dramatic or otherwise, from one movement to the next. Still, these are only quibbles. Hibiki is big expressive statement which keeps one interested and engaged through its entire length, as well as impressed by the masterly skill of its composer.

Since 1998 the BBC has, in connection with the Proms and at other times during the year, a program for pre-college composers which is called Inspire. Each summer during the Proms there is a concert of music by the winners of an annual competition. For the last few years, as was the case this year on August 14, the performances have been by the Aurora Orchestra, whose conductor, Nicholas Collon, introduces the works and their composers. This year’s winners were Chelsea Becker, age 13, Juiana Niu, age 17, Rebecca Farthing, age 17, Will Harmer, age 17, and Sarah Jenkins, age 19. In addition, the three of the winners from 2016 to write pieces for this concert. They were Jack Robinson, Sam Rudd-Jones, and Alex Jones. All of the composers on the concert, whose pieces received brilliant, lovingly prepared, and sympathetic performances, displayed a very impressive command of instrumental writing .

Categories: New Music Blogs

RIP John Abercrombie (1944-2017)

Wed, 2017-08-23 15:20


The extraordinary jazz guitarist John Abercrombie, has died at the age of 72. A player equally comfortable in acoustic and electric settings and in the roles of leader and accompanist, Abercrombie played in a variety of styles, encompassing free jazz, fusion, and standards. He was a consummately versatile, tasteful, and imaginative musician.

A large body of his work was recorded, from 1974, by ECM Records. His last release, Up and Coming,  playing in his regular quartet with Marc Copland, Joey Baron, Drew Gress,  was released earlier this year by the label. Other prominent collaborations include his Gateway trio recordings with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, duo recordings with fellow guitarist Ralph Towner, and his appearance on Charles Lloyd’s recording “The Water is Wide.”

Categories: New Music Blogs

Tanglewood FCM 2017 – Highlights, Part One

Thu, 2017-08-17 08:54

“The Sand Reckoner,”
by Nathan Davis.
Photo: Hilary Scott.

  • This year’s Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood (in Lenox, Massachusetts) was curated by three youngish stars of the new music community: pianist Jacob Greenberg (ICE), cellist Kathryn Bates (Del Sol Quartet), and violist Nadia Sirota (Q2, ACME).  Each planned  a chamber music concert, consisting of commissioned new works and contemporary repertory selections. The curators combined forces with the BSO in selecting pieces for the festival’s finale, an orchestra concert conducted by Stefan Asbury and Vinay Parameswaran.


  • Commissioned works included vocal pieces by Nathan Davis and Anthony Cheung, a string quartet (with copious use of water-filled glasses and glass bowls) by Kui Dong, and Clip, a chamber ensemble work by Nico Muhly (for which I contributed program notes). These showed a diversity of musical approaches. Davis and Cheung took postmodern textual compiling as the jumping off point for stylistically varied and technically demanding singing. Dong revelled in glassine textures, both in the strings and with the water glasses themselves, while Muhly presented one of his most rhythmically intricate works to date, in places extending the language of post-minimalism towards the polyrhythms of late modernity.

George Lewis with the performers of “Anthem.”
Photo: Hilary Scott.

  • A standout on the concert curated by Greenberg on Thursday, August 10th was Columbia University professor George Lewis’s first appearance at Tanglewood (at age 65). Noteworthy for his work with AACM and a catalogue of compositions encompassing facets of concert music, jazz, improvisation, and electronics, Lewis was represented by Anthem, a 2012 piece originally written for Wet Ink Ensemble. At Tanglewood, Wet Ink’s vocalist Katie Soper, herself a prominent and creative composer, delivered a supersonic performance of a part written in Sprechstimme to Lewis’s own text about TV talking heads and subversive political commentary. Teddy Poll conducted, Greenberg contributed electronics, and the rest of the players, to a person impressive, were mostly guest musicians from ICE. Imaginatively scored and surpassingly energetic, Anthem was a rousing closer to FCM’s first evening.

Fromm Players perform
Johnston’s String Quartet No. 4, “Amazing Grace.”
Photo: Hilary Scott.

  • Friday afternoon featured a program of string quartets curated by Bates. A detailed and fine-tuned performance of Ben Johnston’s microtonal Fourth String Quartet by the Fromm Players (for which I was fortunate to contribute program notes) loomed large, but Bates introduced other fine pieces to Tanglewood audiences as well.


  • Croatoan II for string quartet and percussion by Moritz Eggert, supplied the proceedings with a welcome dose of humor, treating the mystery of a disappearing colony of early American settlers with more whimsy than tragedy. Percussionist Tyler Flynt, using what Bates described as a “suitcase’s worth” of hand percussion instruments, made the quick changes both in tempo and instruments seem effortless. Rene Orth’s Stripped (2015), a piece written in memory of the trumpeter Alex Greene, her Curtis classmate, began with noise-based sound effects and traversed an imaginative pathway to soaring harmonics. Although it didn’t quite gel in the Tanglewood performance, Terry Riley’s G Song is an attractive deployment of all manner of scalar patterns and jazzy cadence-points (look for Del Sol Quartet’s next CD to hear it more authoritatively rendered).

Eggert’s “Croatoan II.”
Photo: Hilary Scott.

  • Violinist Cameron Daly and cellist Chava Appiah performed Lei Liang’s Gobi Canticle, a piece that incorporates material and techniques from Mongolian string music. Liang visited the Nei Monggol region in 1996 to learn more about its music-making. This is deftly demonstrated in Gobi Canticle, which is at turns gently lyrical and boldly dramatic in cast.


  • I was most pleased to be introduced to the work of Jack Body (1944-2015),  the recently departed New Zealand composer whose works  synthesize ethnomusicology and composition. The wonderfully fleet and attractive Flurry (2002), in a version for three string quartets, opened Friday’s concert. Led by Bates, this all-too-brief work was immediately encored. One was glad to have the chance to hear it again and, unlike some encores, the performance was just as strong the second time around.

Kathryn Bates leads three string quartets in a performance of
Jack Body’s “Flurry.”
Photo: Hilary Scott.

  • Later this week I will be writing more about FCM, as well as the BSO concerts that coincided with the festival. The article will appear on both my blog and Sequenza 21.
Categories: New Music Blogs

Interview: Julia Adolphe

Mon, 2017-07-24 18:11

This week, The New York Philharmonic premieres their second commission by composer Julia AdolpheThe first, 2016’s Unearth, Release, was a warmly received viola concerto for Philharmonic Principal Violist Cynthia Phelps. The latest, White Stone, will be premiered July 26th as part of the orchestra’s Bravo! Vail series in Colorado. I recently had a chance to catch up with Adolphe about both of these collaborations, as well as her opera Sylvia. 


Who were/are your composition mentors at Cornell and USC? What is something that you’ve learned from each?


I’ve had two incredible mentors who’ve inspired me to become a composer. The first was Steven Stucky, who gave me private composition lessons for four years while I was an undergraduate at Cornell. I arrived at Cornell without any formal training in classical music and was very intimidated by the large group of (all male) doctoral students pursuing composition. Professor Stucky made me feel included and welcome, allowing me to take graduate level courses alongside his other students. Steven Stucky essentially taught me how to compose, to go from nothing on the page to crafting a vocabulary, playing with colors, and communicating ideas through music. At USC, I spent four years studying with Stephen Hartke, who taught me an enormous amount about writing for the orchestra and writing opera. With Professor Hartke, I learned how to write larger forms and develop a musical narrative. Hartke encouraged me to embrace my love of storytelling through my music. Most importantly, both Stucky and Hartke taught me specific compositional techniques and tools while encouraging me to trust and believe in my own voice.



You fashioned both text and music for your opera Sylvia. Tell me a bit about your work as a poet/librettist?


My first musical pieces that I wrote as a child were folk songs comprised of my own original lyrics. I always loved writing lyrics and stories as well as acting in plays and musicals. Opera seems like a natural extension of these early passions. I wrote Sylvia in 2012 and it is based on the real life experiences of my best childhood friend. The opera’s content was deeply personal and I wrote the libretto out of a need to tell Sylvia’s story. I love working with living poets and am currently setting a poem entitled Equinox by Elizabeth Alexander. For my next opera, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, I will be working with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann. I am very excited to have such wonderful collaborators!



I have sung at Bargemusic and it can be a wobbly place to get your bearings. What was it like producing Sylvia there?


It was a lot of fun and an incredibly dramatic, yet intimate venue. I think the surreal setting and off-kilter feeling you experience on the boat fit perfectly with the dreamlike nature of the opera.



There are some great viola concertos in the literature, but the challenges facing composers of them is legendary: balance, orchestration, etc. Was writing for viola and ensemble an upfront part of the commission for Unearth, Release or did you choose to write for these forces?



The New York Philharmonic asked that I compose a viola concerto for their principal violist Cynthia Phelps. I was extremely excited about the challenge: the viola does not possess the same carrying power in terms of volume and brightness as the violin or the cello. It is a subtle instrument with dark tones and fragile qualities. Yet is has a singular expressive beauty. I worked closely with Cynthia, ensuring that every gesture was idiomatic and communicative for her instrument. During the rehearsals of the work’s world premiere with the Eastern Festival Orchestra, I was able to make revisions so that the viola could speak more clearly over the orchestra. Both Alan Gilbert and Jaap Van Zweden gave me feedback throughout the writing and rehearsal process and I learned an incredible amount about the orchestra along the way.



Did you know which pieces were going to be programmed alongside yours in Vail? If so, did that impact your composition of White Stone?


I knew from the beginning that my piece would be premiered alongside Gershwin and Dvořák, but I chose not to think about that. My goal when I write is to express my own voice and be as true to my own emotions, dreams, atmospheres and sounds as possible. Of course I am influenced by a host of composers, but to purposely seek out composers on the same program would make it harder for me to clarify my own thoughts during the writing process.



What else would you like for audience members in Vail to know in advance about the piece?


A white stone is an object that is both unique yet familiar, a jewel and a pebble, emerging from the dirt to become something treasured. The music rises from dark, murky textures, striving towards brightness and clarity. The cello and timpani are the first to surface from the discord, stirring action in other sections of the orchestra. The percussion serves to rally and activate the music, leading the orchestra upwards towards brighter harmonies and unified rhythms. White Stone captures the struggle to be resilient and powerful in the face of overwhelming obstacles and fear of defeat.



Categories: New Music Blogs

Required Reading: Experimental Music Since 1970

Sat, 2017-07-22 12:14

Book Review:

Experimental Music Since 1970

By Jennie Gottschalk

Bloomsbury, 2016

284 pp.

From the very beginning of Experimental Music Since 1970, author Jennie Gottschalk lets us know that her perspective is that of a “maker,” a composer. This is instructive as to the book’s approach and to its inclusion and, in some cases, exclusion, of experimental composers who have made an impact over the past five decades. These decisions are based on a particular composer’s vantage point rather than an attempt to construct an all-encompassing canon of “important” figures, which in the fragmented and various perspectives of the postmodern era no book could truly do without devolving into mere name-checking and cataloging. Happily, Gottschalk’s book is anything but a catalog — her portraits of various wings of experimental music are vivid and often detailed. It is the viewpoint of a fascinating “maker,” someone who embraces an array of imaginative approaches to musical experimentation.

Gottschalk suggests that one of the purposes of her volume is to serve as a continuation of Michael Nyman’s seminal Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Perhaps in response to the centrality of Cage in the earlier volume, she begins Experimental Music Since 1970 with a deconstruction of the composer’s 4’33”, pointing out the various pathways into experiment that the piece still affords today. Gottschalk identifies these central concerns as follows: indeterminacy, change, non-subjectivity, research, and experience. While it is quickly pointed out that not all experimental music engages all of these issues, they prove to be pivotal in the way that Gottschalk defines and describes experimentation.

With these initial precepts laid out, the book proceeds to further parse experimentation into particular spheres of activity, with each chapter tackling one or more of these. Thus we are spared a chronological overview and when concerns overlap in composers’ works, they may reappear throughout the volume. This does lead one to question certain choices of space allocation. For instances, even given all of his fertile creativity, why is Peter Ablinger so often referenced while microtonal composers Ezra Sims and Joe Maneri and hypercomplex composers Brian Ferneyhough and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf are not mentioned even once? Apparently, the second modern school falls outside of Gottschalk’s purview. While one can fall back on her statement that she is a composer rather than a historian, it is somewhat disappointing that these significant types of experimentation seem “beyond the pale” (interestingly, there is similar neglect of American late modernism in Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s recent After the Fall: Music Since 1989). The presence of experimental jazz is also spotty, with a few references to artists such as Anthony Braxton and George Lewis but nothing about, for instance, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, and Sun Ra. Another challenge is some haphazard copy-editing, particularly in the book’s latter half.

These caveats aside, what is covered here is a splendor of imaginative music-making that will supply much food for thought. Gottschalk is particularly in her element when discussion the Wandelweiser collective, approaches to instrument-building, ad hoc electronics, improvisation, sound art, ecomusic in general and site-specific works in particular. The book’s inclusivity in terms of race, gender, and sexuality may, along with Rutherford-Johnson’s similarly sensitive treatment of these issues in Music Since 1989, help to slay a few stereotypes about composers. Gottschalk’s website, Sound Expanse, continues to build upon the achievements and aims of Experimental Music Since 1970, providing a valuable companion to the book and a “must bookmark” resource all by itself.


Categories: New Music Blogs

Opera Parallele Presents Glass/Cocteau Les Enfants Terribles

Thu, 2017-07-20 11:09
Our Buddhist friends like to remind us that the idea that we are separate is an illusion and not a fact but try telling that to anybody anywhere these days desperately trying to “connect” by every mobile device known to man. And if that doesn’t spell separation/alienation we might need a new word for this state of mind. Leave it to French poet-artist-playwright-novelist-filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963 ) to set things right because the characters in his work are often desperately trying to connect as in his lyric tragedy with composer Francis Poulenc La Voix Humaine (1958 ) where the speaker is quite literally at the end of her tether. And let’s not forget the fact that Cocteau was always making war on established truths, and toying with what appearances mean or seem to mean. I walk around my block and nothing makes “sense” but that’s crazy because nothing really ever does. Cocteau, at any rate, rarely tried to make “rational” sense in his work, and composer Philip Glass began his Cocteau trilogy with Orphee (1992) in which he took the script of Cocteau’s 1950 film of the same name and made it into an opera for singers and chamber orchestra, and though crystal clear in construction and sound it was almost as dreamlike as its source. Francesca Zambello’s white-on-white original production which I caught at The Brooklyn Academy Of Music was impressive, though much more so in its second half. Glass went further with La Belle et la Bete (1994) in which he used Cocteau’s 1946 film of the same name as both visual environment and text. The film’s sound was turned off which meant losing the actors’ voices as well as Georges Auric’s original incidental — partial — score which Glass replaced with a wall to wall one of his own for singers, with Glass and his Philip Glass Ensemble playing live. The result was a remarkable fusion of image, words, and music which I caught in Charles Otte’s US premiere at BAM, and in a slightly different but equally successful production by the PGE in 2013 at, and in an overly busy and diffuse one by Oakland Opera Theater minus the film. Glass went even further in his “dance/opera/spectacle” Les Enfants Terribles: Children of the Game (1996) which he and director-choreographer Susan Marshall derived from Cocteau’s eponymous 1929 novel and Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1950 film. The result was a highly theatrical work for singers, dancers, and three digital/grand pianos which foregrounded the reality which Elisabeth and her brother Paul construct as a substitute for their boring day to day life. Dance mirrors their animal natures, or as Glass put it in a program note for its original production which I wrote about for the defunct gay arts mag Provocateur — ” Here, time stands still. There is only music, and the movement of children through space”, which Opera Parallele re-imagined in surprising but perfectly apt ways They made the unreal real, and the real unreal and that’s catnip for opera. The snow which fell onto the BAM stage from above was here projected on a scrim with the cast behind it facing the audience, and when the scrim went up, they stepped forward and the drama hurtled towards its dark inevitable end. Paul felled by the “marble-fisted.. marble-hearted blow ” of a snowball with a rock inside it thrown by his male friend Dargelos whom he’s in love with. `Paul convalesces at home with his sister where they seal themselves off from the world in their “Room” where they play the “Game ” which devours them and everyone who enters it. Entrapment. Betrayal. Incest. Poison. Death. And let’s not forget that Cocteau was coming off opium when he wrote Les Enfants so every production of it has to have the perfervid force of a dream, and this one had that in spades. Amy Seiwert’s dancers doubled baritone Hadleigh Adams’ Paul and soprano Rachel Schutz’s Lise disturbingly; director Brian Staufenbiehl’s fluidly calibrated movement surrounded / opposed tenor Andres Ramirez’s Narrator / Gerard who’s Paul and Lise’s friend mezzo Kindra Scharich enacted both Dargelos — Cocteau on Paul’s view of Dargelos  — “He had imagined himself in thrall to an accidental likeness between a schoolboy and a a girl ” — and the siblings’ friend Agathe to ambiguous and exacting effect. Ambiguous because everything here is ambiguous yet clear as your face in the glass, and exacting because though Cocteau may have been on opium when he wrote it his French is dispassionately clear, precise, a sealed off language in which even the biggest flights of fancy don’t quite take off because French has always been about where you should touch down, and that means rules understood and obeyed to a tee. And this distance between the implied and the said is so very Cocteau, and so very Philip Glass which is here in his two against three rhythmic oppositions which hide and reveal his clear yet always moving harmonic structures, and it’s here when these three superb pianists build those structures one upon the other like floors in a building, utterly separate yet conjoined, indefinite space clearly defined, or as Debussy advised Satie — ” Music should stay where it is, not follow the play. It should be like a decor. A property tree doesn’t go into convulsion when an actor crosses the stage ” and it’s here where Staufenbiehl’s silent film isn’t an invention or an intervention but part of a barely glimpsed whole complete in its incompleteness. Or should we leave it to Cocteau who said ” style is a simple way of saying complicated things.” And to think that I saw the final dress of Verdi’s Rigoletto at just after Opera Parallele’s Glass Les Enfants. Two masters of our music theatre art operating at the very top of their respective games. We like to think we’re separate but we aren’t.

Music by Philip Glass

Libretto by Jean Cocteau 

Sung in French and English with English supertitles  Caroline H. Hume Hall  Directed by Brian Staufenbiehl Conducted by Nicole Paiment  Pianists : Kevin Korth; Keisuke Nakagoshi; Eva-Maria Zimmerman Choreography: Amy Seiwert Dancers: Steffi Cheong; Brett Conway Singers; Rachel Schutz; Hadleigh Adams; Andre Ramirez; Kindra Scharich
Categories: New Music Blogs

Kurtág on ECM

Thu, 2017-07-20 09:29

György Kurtág

Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir

Asko | Schönberg and Netherlands Radio Choir; Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor

ECM Records 3xCD 2505-07


Composer György Kurtág was born in Transylvania, but his many years of association with the Budapest conservatory have identified him as one of the foremost composers of Hungary, heir to Ligeti’s mantle as forward thinker and brilliant creator. ECM has been the label most associated with his music. Their release last decade of his string works was revelatory and one could certainly heap plaudits on the label’s celebration of Kurtág’s eightieth birthday in 2006 with a recording of his brilliant Kafka Fragments.


To celebrate his ninetieth year, just a smidge late, ECM has released a 3 CD set of Kurtág’s Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir. Even before listening, it is something to behold. ECM rightly has a reputation for lovingly curating their releases, but a number of interviews and essays (including program notes by Paul Griffiths), inclusion of the complete texts in sympathetic translations (no matter how thorny the originals), and many samples of the composer’s handwritten scores and ink drawings make this release a feast for the eyes. As for the ears, it has a remarkable dynamic range, clearly rendering everything from the softest whispers to thunderous bass drum thwacks with a sense of energetic potency.


The variance of dynamics is just one part of the multi-layered structures found in this music. From fragments of instrumental sound and disordered declamation to walls of choral sound and altissimo register vocal climaxes, Kurtág’s work encompasses a wide range of expression. In terms of desire, grief, fear, exhaustion, resiliency, and pain, there seems to be not a shade of emotion missing: his music is a complete catalog of the modernist project. Conductor Reinbert de Leeuw elicits each of these emotions and musical demeanors in turn with the surest of hands, drawing consummately detailed performances from the assembled forces. If you make it your business to get one recording of music by Kurtág, this is it.


Categories: New Music Blogs

Aaron Parks Trio at Smalls

Thu, 2017-07-06 13:29

Aaron Parks Trio

Smalls Live

June 16, 2017

By Christian Carey


NEW YORK – Nestled snuggly in the midst of Greenwich Village, Smalls Live is an intimate space, but a vital one for the jazz scene. Over the past decade, the venue has hosted thousands of performances – 11,000 of them are archived on the site for subscription-based streaming. With a nice piano and fastidious sound, it is an enjoyable place to experience live music. “Nestled snuggly,” but comfortably, was how I felt on June 16th, as my partner and I were fortunate to garner two of the last seats. The venue was full of a wide cross section of attendees; seasoned jazz buffs and regulars mingled with a decidedly younger set. If pianist Aaron Parks — and Smalls — can continue to draw such a healthy-sized audience from a similar cross-section of demographics, signs are most encouraging.


Parks was celebrating the release of Find the Way, his second CD as a leader on ECM. He was joined, both on the recording session and at Smalls, by bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart, veterans who have played together in various contexts in the past. Find the Way consists of eight originals and one tune by Ian Bernard: the CD’s title track. The live set featured selections from the album, as well as two tunes from elsewhere: an as yet unrecorded Parks original “Isle of Everything” and George Shearing’s “Conception,” which Parks has recorded with Anders Christensen. The first of these vacillated between free tempo bluesy excursions and more incisive post-bop passages. Hart played his cymbals with abandon while Street juxtaposed walking lines with countermelodies high on the neck of his double bass. “Conception” was tightly knit and taken uptempo, demonstrating the pianist’s facility with wide-ranging arpeggios and the rhythm section’s seamless coordination.


The trio sidled into a mid-tempo groove, with a plethora of gestural imitation between them, on the album cut “Melquíades.” “Adrift” included a guest musician: the saxophonist Dayna Stephens. Both Find the Way and Stephens’s Criss Cross recording I’ll Take My Chances feature this composition. Parks and Stephens spurred each other on, creating ebullient soaring lines in some of the most inspired playing of the evening. Not to be outdone, Hart played forcefully and dexterously on “Hold Music,” a piece written by Parks to showcase his colleague’s legendary drumming. The final number of the set was the CD’s title track, which demonstrated the pianist’s impressionist leanings, boasting limpid splashes of harmony redolent of Debussy and Ravel. As we departed, there was a line out the door, eager to hear the trio’s second set. Encouraging signs indeed.

Categories: New Music Blogs

Brightwork newmusic at Monk Space

Wed, 2017-07-05 18:47

On June 27, 2017 Tuesdays@Monk Space hosted a concert titled The Flood. A full house gathered on a warm Koreatown evening to hear works by five contemporary Southern California composers as performed by the Brightwork newmusic ensemble.

First up was Kaleidoscope (2014) by William Kraft, who was in attendance. This opened with a series of bright tutti notes that had a vivid luminescence combined with a sense of the mysterious. Some solid duo playing by the bass clarinet and the piccolo was followed by a softer, slower section that contained a lovely flute solo, all adding to the mystical feel. The full ensemble then stoked up the intensity with a series of syncopated tutti passages, while a nicely expressive violin solo down-shifted the emotional color yet again. All of this unfolded before the audience almost without warning. As William Kraft stated in the program notes: “I do like to enjoy the adventure along the way. In that way, the balancing of phrases and events reveal the form, as it is being developed.”

The constantly changing tempos, textures and dynamics required a high level of musicianship from Brightwork, and they delivered with their usual accuracy and flair. The close acoustics of Monk Space brought out every detail of this stimulating piece – Kaleidoscope is well-named. At the conclusion the composer, one of the great eminences of the Los Angeles new music scene, rose to acknowledge the prolonged and sincere applause.

I will learn to love a person (2013) by Chris Cerrone followed, and for this soprano Stacey Fraser joined Brightwork’s Aron Kallay on piano, Brian Walsh on clarinet and percussionist Nick Terry. I will learn to love a person unfurls in five short movements that survey the difficult emotional terrain of a relationship under stress. The opening movement, That night with the green sky, sets the scene with a few tentative notes from the piano that are soon joined by the vibraphone whose deep tones form a sort of musical shadow. The voice enters quietly, full of brief phrases and a questioning feel, all tinged with sadness from the text by Tao Lin: “Why did you want me gone?”

The second movement, Eleven page poem part III, is brightly active, starting with a long piano trill that accelerates as fast arpeggios are heard in the clarinet. The vocals here are strongly declarative even as the accompaniment becomes more animated and intense. The feeling stops just short of anger, but is in clear contrast to the unguarded sensitivity of the opening movement. As the piece continued into the later movements, more stridency is heard in the voice which often dominates. The range of expression was impressively negotiated by Ms. Fraser, especially in the higher registers. A slower, more gentle section followed with a distinctly aspirational feel, highlighted by a finely wrought vocal passage set against a helpfully thin instrumental texture. This was followed, however, by darker colors that portrayed the feelings of frustration and helplessness that result as a close relationship comes to a regrettable end. I will learn to love a person is a powerful and intimate look at the many vulnerabilities that surface when personal relationships are in crisis.

Ararat (1995), by Shaun Naidoo, was next and for this the entire Brightwork ensemble returned to the stage. A syncopated, rhythmic passage opens, followed by silence. The opening passage repeats and more extensively syncopated tutti passages follow,adding a layer of complexity to the overall feel. There is also a sense of the exotic – like taking a journey to a strange place – while an active and rhythmic texture contribute a strong sense of motion. Shaun Naidoo is quoted in the program notes: “Although Ararat should not be viewed as an overtly programmatic exercise, there is an undoubted connection between the flood myth and the rhetorical flow of the music.” Mount Ararat is, of course, the place where Noah’s ark first came to rest on solid ground after the flood, and this provides a metaphorical framework for this piece – as well as the concert as a whole. As Ararat progressed, a loud drum solo is followed by the clarinet, flute and violin trading phrases and building a nice groove. At one point the tempo slows and the bass clarinet casts a somewhat darker tone, but the uptempo pace soon returns with a complicated tutti texture that culminates in a long chord and steady drum beat. A series of light piano notes end Ararat, an intriguing and stimulating odyssey, safely grounded at last.

After the intermission, Why Women Weep (IT IS THE QUICKEST WAY TO REJOIN THE OCEAN) (2017), by Pamela Madsen was performed by Brightwork cellist Maggie Parkins. Part of a larger multi-media oratorio, this solo piece also incorporates spoken voice recordings as well as electronics. The program notes state that Why Women Weep “…embodies three selves—the cello, the spoken voice of the performer, and the recorded voice of Anaïs Nin. Anaïs Nin (1903–77), an American writer of Cuban-Spanish and French-Danish descent, is perhaps best known for her close association with Henry Miller, and for her extensive, deeply introspective diary. “

Why Women Weep opens with deep, solemn tones in the cello as spoken words are heard from the electronics. The poignant playing of Ms. Parkins sets a sorrowful mood that turns more dramatic through a series of faster repeating passages with spiky rhythms. As the piece proceeds, the agitation gives way to a lighter sense of optimism for a time before returning to the more subdued feel of the opening. Two sets of voices are heard in the electronics and the cello playing becomes very expressive and quietly emotional, especially in the repeating figure heard as the piece decrescendos to a close. Why Women Weep is a strongly passionate piece, capably served in this performance by the sensitive playing of Ms. Parkins.

The final piece on the concert program was Internal States (2016) by Tom Flaherty. This was commissioned by Brightwork newmusic and the full ensemble returned to perform this three movement work. Doubt, the first movement, began with low tones in the piano and cello, accompanied by an anxious violin passage. Dissonance and repeating figures added to the tension, but this was soon followed by a series of extended and overlapping tones, passed around among the instruments, defusing the anxiety just a bit. A sharply parsed violin solo – nicely played by Tereza Stanislav – ratcheted up the tension once more as the rhythmic activity increased in all the instruments. A tutti crescendo brought the volume up to maximum just before fading at the finish.

Reverie, movement 2, followed and this had a quiet, introspective feel, aided by sustained tones in the bass clarinet and cello at the beginning. Simmering low notes in the vibraphone and a dominating violin passage added to the dreamlike quality. Arpeggios in the flute and clarinet added a slight edge, but the meditative atmosphere was restored with a return of the bass clarinet and flute – very effectively scored – plus some bowed notes from the vibraphone. The feeling became very fluid and dreamy towards the end with tutti chords and runs, all topped off with a solid vibraphone figure at the finish.

Celebration, the final movement, began with a flourish of rapid runs, traded off between the flute and clarinet. The bustling texture from the syncopation and dissonance resulted in a dance-like feel, and everything seemed to be in a state of motion. The whirling tutti texture was most engaging and some well-timed wood block rhythms added to the sense of agile movement. As the piece progressed a syncopated clarinet solo drew the other players in, and this built into a nicely active mix. The tempo then slowed slightly, allowing just a small sense of sadness to creep in, as longer notes prevailed. At the finish, however, the pace accelerated with the percussion loudly dominating, while a series of frantic tutti phrases flooded out from the entire ensemble. The vigor and intensity of Internal States left the audience breathless but energized as Tom Flaherty rose to receive the enthusiastic applause.

Brightwork newmusic is:
Sara Andon – flute
Aron Kallay – piano
Maggie Parkins – cello
Nick Terry – percussion
Tereza Stanislav – violin
Brian Walsh – clarinet.

Categories: New Music Blogs

Marc Sabat and JACK – Harmony (CD)

Tue, 2017-06-27 08:45


Marc Sabat


JACK Quartet

Canadian Composers Series #5

Another Timbre


Euler Spirals Scenery (2011), Claudiu Ptolemy (2008), Jean Philippe Rameau (2012)


A long time fixture on the Toronto scene as a string performer, improviser, and composer, Marc Sabat now resides in Berlin. However, he has taken his experimental penchant for tuning systems with him, writing in extended just intonation with a fluency that rivals Harry Partch and Ben Johnston’s own explorations of pitch. On the CD Harmony, JACK Quartet plays two quartets and a duo with rapt attention to the detailed nuances of Sabat’s pitch language and a keen sense of its corresponding flowing rhythms.


Euler Lattice Spirals Scenery (2011) is a five movement work that name checks various elements and personages of the intonation studies milieu. The first movement, Preludio, is subtitled “Les Quintes Justes” and it indeed does deal with sustained pure fifths in evocative fashion. Two of the movements, numbers two and five respectively, are titled Pythagoras Drawing. Movements three and four are each dedicated to a different composer who has been influential on Sabat; they are titled Harmonium for Claude Vivier and Harmonium for Ben Johnston. Each successive movement sends us a little further into the dark forest of dissonant overtones that accumulate on top of “Les Quintes Justes.” Thus, the entire piece can be seen as gradually revealing the compass of Sabat’s pitch palette.


Claudius Ptolemy (2008) is a duo, played by JACK violinist Christopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland (note: Jay Campbell now plays with the group). Open string double stops as well as dissonant intervals, harmonics, and ambling melodies combine in this adagio essay to make a fresh-sounding conglomeration of familiar playing techniques. The aforementioned “ambling affect” is one that Sabat shares with a number of his Canadian colleagues, not least Linda Catlin Smith, whose volume in the Canadian Composer Series (#1) appeared as a review here earlier in 2017. The final work on the Sabat CD is named after another important music theorist: Jean-Philippe Rameau (2012). Here the simultaneities are particularly fetching, with double-stops from multiple quartet members overlapping into beautiful chords. In one of his treatises( from 1737), Rameau struggled to describe the consonant and dissonant properties of just intonation: Sabat’s Rameau lays it out for all to hear with abundant clarity.  



Categories: New Music Blogs