I just finished an arrangement of I Saw Three Ships for St. Dunstan’s Choir, an all-male group directed by Joseph Arndt and in residence at Grace Church in Newark. Earlier this month, they premiered my Mass for Men’s Voices.
Music of Peter Lieberson Volume 3
Piano Concerto No. 3
Stephen Beck, piano; Roberto Diaz, viola;
Odense Symphony Orchestra, Scott Yoo, conductor
Peter Lieberson (1946-2011) was a composer capable of creating affecting works in a wide range of styles. He was well known for collaborations with his wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; songs resplendent in lyricism. On the other hand, many of his earlier compositions were written in a more modernist vein. Later concertos for piano and viola point out that the composer covered a great deal of musical terrain between the two aforementioned approaches .
“Leviathan,” the first movement of Piano Concerto No. 3 (2003), pits incisive piano lines against muscular gestures from the orchestra. Alternating between richly hued and fragile passages, in “Leviathan” Lieberson convincingly threads his way through an intricate structure. “Canticle,” the piece’s second movement, revels in an extended triadic language. At its outset, roles are exchanged; here the piano is often the more assertive party with the orchestra supplying a lush and sustained background. Eventually there is a changing of the tide, with gentle gestures from the piano being offset by arcing lines and punctuating percussion from the orchestra. The concerto’s final movement is a Rondo. The main motive here, a polytonal chordal cascade, is presented in various permutations and is contrasted by far flung episodes. Of considerable interest are the sudden contrasts one finds here. Varying motives and meters, and transformations of harmony and orchestration provide a bevy of (pleasant) surprises. Soloist Steven Beck plays with thoughtful grace and, where required, strongly articulated virtuosity. Scott Yoo leads the Odense Symphony in an assured performance that takes the concerto’s many contrasting sections and technical demands in stride.
The first movement of Lieberson’s Viola Concerto (1992, revised in 2003) is a catalog of the many ways that you can treat the interval of a minor third. It serves as a motto in the solo part, but also infiltrates the orchestra quite thoroughly: from the flutes right down to the double basses. The second movement, a Scherzo, keeps the minor third around, but often treats it as an ostinato from which ornate altered scales emerge. The piece’s final movement features an expansive and ardent Adagio section, with some lovely cadenza passages and a tapering denouement, capped off (relatively late in the game) by a boisterous Allegro. This features a reintroduction of (you guessed it) that minor third in a variety of new guises. The Viola Concerto is an excellent example of a composer restricting himself to a particular palette, yet allowing a plethora of permutations from it to emerge. And while there are passages in which harmonic centers are ambiguous, the overall musical language of this piece is more conservative than Piano Concerto No. 3. Not that this is a bad thing; it demonstrates the composer’s versatility. One only wishes that Lieberson could still be here to enjoy the stirring rendition of this piece provided by soloist Roberto Diaz and, once again, the stalwart Odense Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Yoo. This is one of my favorite recordings of 2014.
As evidenced by Crazy Weather, Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s latest recording of music by Scott Wheeler, the composer really knows his way around the percussive sounds. Even on pieces for strings like the title track, there is the ‘thwack’ of pizzicatos and bow slaps to help propel the proceedings. Pacing is another strong suit of Wheeler’s. The shadowy passages of City of Shadows are balanced by flurried gestures that enliven the music and help to articulate the work’s overall architecture. The outer movements of Northern Lights give the impression of intense and quicksilver slalom runs, while the middle movement, marked “Still and Granitic,” provides a portentous counterpart.
I have been greatly enjoying A Harvest Home, Cantus’s new Thanksgiving themed CD. One of my favorite compositions on the recording is Eventide, by Byron Adams. You can hear it via the SoundCloud link below.
JACK Quartet; Rootstock Percussion; Cicada Chamber Ensemble; musicians from soundSCAPE; Awea Duo; The Callithumpian Consort, Stephen Drury, conductor
Bridge 9425 CD
Composer Lei Liang knows how to pick performers; or perhaps, wisely, they select his works. Either way, when their paths cross, as they do here on a portrait CD released on Bridge Records, the results are noteworthy. Whether it is Tony Arnold singing Lakescape, JACK Quartet’s elegant recording of Gobi Gloria, or the Callithumpian Consort’s energetic rendition of the title track, every performance is committed and convincing.
To suggest that Liang’s music is primarily a fusion of Asian traditional music and contemporary classical is overly reductive. The composer integrates various influences respectfully and thoughtfully. His incorporation of disparate textures and points of inspiration in no way diminishes Liang’s individuality. Whether it is Buddhist contemplative practices in Lakescape, Guqin (a Chinese zither) in Listening for Blossoms, a Mongolian fiddle player in Serashi Fragments, or, in Bamboo Lights, the memory of relatives who passed away during World War II, each is a starting point from which Liang creates music that is deeply personal.
Lynsey Marsh, clarinet; Hallé Orchestra and Hallé Soloists; Sir Mark Elder and Jamie Phillips, conductors
NMC Recordings NMCD 199
Helen Grime is Associate Composer of the Hallé Orchestra. The ensemble has given her a generous portrait CD on NMC with excellent performances of both chamber and orchestral works, all composed in the past seven years. It commences with her Virga (2007), which has enjoyed enormous success; it has been championed by luminary conductors Oliver Knussen, Stéphane Denève, and Pierre Boulez. Hearing the glistening coloristic orchestral palette and unerring sense of pacing – with strong gestures succeeded by passages of fragile delicacy and a coda that beguilingly vanishes into thin air – one can readily understand why it might have attracted such attention. Composed in the same year, her string sextet Into the Faded Air provides a similarly shimmering effect.
The first work I heard of Grime’s live was her Clarinet Concerto in a sterling performance by Fellows at Tanglewood’s 2010 Festival of Contemporary Music. The Hallé’s recording of the piece stands up to that fond memory, with soloist Lynsey Marsh providing fleet cadenzas and unerringly cutting through the forceful accompaniment (again a testament to Grime’s savvy and skilful orchestration).
Composed for the BBC Scottish Symphony, Everyone Sang (2010) is a set of variations on a melody that typifies the linear writing found in Grime’s work: angular yet vivacious. There is counterpoint aplenty here too, with competing passages from the upper and lower registers of the ensemble. Night Songs, a gift for Oliver Knussen’s sixtieth birthday, distills this distinctive language into a taut six minutes of abundant variety. One can certainly hear affectionate nods to some of Knussen’s works, but Grime never stoops to mimicry.
The beginning of Near Midnight (2012), a work composed for the Hallé, finds lower register instruments and the percussion section holding sway. Eventually clarion trumpet calls, flutes, and divided strings are inserted into the proceedings, creating a colloquy between registers and a bevy of traded gestures. The piece’s middle section calms things down, allowing the strings a long, arcing line against which occasional flurries from the other sections interject. Out of this builds a crescendo in which fragmented passages and terse melodic utterances are once again traded between sections of the ensemble. Fluid upward gestures are countered by more earthbound sustained passages. The gradual denouement that concludes the work contains glinting shimmers that vivify the overall fadeout.
Thanks to loadbang for performing my music this Friday in California (info below).
November 7, 8pm: Festival of New American Music Gala, Sacramento, CA
This gala will feature performances of music by Andy Akiho, Christian Carey, David Lang, and Scott Worthington, as well as appearances by pianist Lara Downes, and the Rootstock Percussion Trio.
loadbang also has a new CD out, Monodramas, featuring music by Andy Akiho, Eve Beglarian, Hannah Lash, and Paul Pinto.
Dream Play Records
Composer/pianist Adam Berenson makes an eclectic array of music: classical compositions, controlled improvisations, electronic music, and jazz. Lumen, his latest release for Dream Play Records, collects two CDs of his works.
Spanning more than two decades of documentation, it features performers Bob Moses, Bill Marconi, Scott Barnum, Eric Hofbauer, and JACK Quartet. Berenson is at the center of the proceedings, playing piano, prepared piano, synthesizers, percussion, and live electronics. Reveling in diversity, Berenson’s variety of approaches yields several compelling pieces. For those who want to sample a bit of these before buying the discs, his Soundcloud page provides a wealth of audio examples. I enjoyed experiencing the mix of music Lumen has on offer.