Righteous Girls: Gathering Blue

RighteousGIRLS-2-High-REs-e1434655231914-1105x336

I am thrilled that on July 10th Righteous Girls are releasing their debut album, Gathering Blue, on New Focus Recordings . It contains works by Andy Akiho, Akinmusire, Pascal Le Boeuf,  Vijay Iyer, Dave Molk, Mike Perdue, Jonathan Ragonese, and Randy Woolf, as well as my own “For Milton,” an homage to Milton Babbitt that is influenced in equal parts by jazz and serialism. Gathering Blue received a NewMusic USA Project Grant, a very competitive award to garner. There will be a release party for the CD at Joe’s Pub on August 7th, followed by a tour supporting the CD with dates in Washington DC, Baltimore MD, and Carrboro NC.

Thurston Moore and John Moloney: Full Bleed – Caught on Tape

Full Bleed: Caught on Tape

Thurston Moore and John Moloney

Northern Spy

It can be easy to frame an artist based on their most prominent or recent work. But while Thurston Moore has increasingly of late been involved in songwriting and poetry, one shouldn’t forget his roots in avant improv. Full Bleed: Caught on Tape is an excellent reminder of the ferocity of tone and boldness of amplitude Moore can undertake as an improviser.

Drummer John Moloney has in recent years spent much of his time playing with Moore in his Chelsea Light Moving incarnation. As a founding member of Sunburned Hand of the Man, he too has skronk improv cred. He demonstrates it here with thunderous enthusiasm, pushing Moore – and us – past anybody’s comfort zone. Full Bleed displays elements of drone rock and moments of finely layered textural playing. However, it mostly revels in the noise rock end of the spectrum. While that’s a place that Moore hasn’t visited quite as frequently of late as he did during his formative years, he proves here that he still can own it with abandon. Though not for the sonically squeamish, Full Bleed is an impressive, forceful document.

Happy Birthday Terry Riley!

Happy birthday to composer Terry Riley, who turns 80 today.

There are CD releases out this week to celebrate the composer. My assessment of ZOFO Plays Terry Riley appears in the CD Reviews section of Sequenza 21 and on my blog.

But wait, there’s more.

Nonesuch Records has done right by Riley. They have released One Earth, One People, One Love, a 5-CD boxed set of the complete recordings of Riley’s music composed for Kronos Quartet. The set contains a disc of unreleased tracks, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector: Music of Terry Riley. For those of you yelling – “No fair! I already have the Kronos discs. I want to buy the unreleased recordings as a separate CD!” – Nonesuch is allowing you to do just that, separately releasing these recordings on a single disc.

Once again, happiest of birthdays Mr. Riley! May you continue to write the eloquently beautiful music we have come to know and love for many years to come.

 

Holly Herndon: “Platform”

Platform

Holly Herndon

4AD/RVNG Intl.

Most graduate students spend their time studying for comprehensive exams, giving conference papers, and readying their CV’s for the brutal academic job market. As a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, Holly Herndon is likely doing most or all of these things. But she is also crafting music of intense energy and winsome vitality that is being released commercially. It is nice to see the distinction between ‘academic music’ and ‘popular music’, between ‘electroacoustic music’ and ‘electronica,’ being utterly obliterated by her latest recorded outing Platform.

The use of electronic elements sits astride these two genres. There are beats aplenty that bump up against creatively morphed vocals and all manner of synthesizer magic. In terms of creative use of voices, I would put Herndon’s Platform alongside Jenny Hval’s Apocalypse Girl, Björk‘s Vulnicura, and Roomful of Teeth’s Render as this year’s exemplars thus far. It is exciting to contemplate what Herndon’s postgraduate work will look like.

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Herndon also has an enthusiasm for the visual. Several of the album’s tracks feature creative videos in which she is the protagonist in somewhat skewed scenarios. For an imaginative example, check out the video for “Morning Sun” below.

Thursday: Sarah Plum at Spectrum

Sarah Plum

On Thursday, June 25th at 7:00 PM, violinist Sarah Plum plays a concert at  Spectrum (121 Ludlow Street, NYC). Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors) and are available at the door.

Plum, a new music specialist, has two CDs coming out on July 14th, both on the Blue Griffin imprint. On the first, joined by Timothy Lovelace, she presents the first volume in a projected series of music for violin and piano by Béla Bartók. The second is a CD of new music, concertos by Sidney Corbett and Christopher Adler.

On her gig at Spectrum, Plum plays works by both of the aforementioned living composers, as well as pieces by Charles Nichols and Mark Engebretson. Her program features both pieces for violin and electronics and violin and piano. She is abetted by pianist Francine Kay. Below, you can check out a video of a work on the program, Nichols’s Il Preto Rosso for violin and interactive electronics. Plum repeats the Nichols at New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival on June 26 at 4:00pm ( info at nycemf.org).

RIP Gunther Schuller (1925-2015)

Saddening news today. Gunther Schuller has died at the age of 89. A musical polymath, Schuller was active as a composer, conductor, arranger, historian, educator, arts administrator and, earlier in his career, French horn player. He pioneered the concept of “Third Stream” music: works that combine influences and materials from jazz and classical music.

In Schuller’s honor, today I’m listening to a Boston Modern Orchestra Project recording of his pieces for jazz quartet and orchestra. Given all of the attempts over the years to synthesize jazz and classical, it is amazing how fresh these pieces remain, how effortlessly Schuller (and BMOP) move from one style to another, and how seamlessly they blend the two.

I was looking forward to this summer’s tribute to Schuller at the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood. Now this concert, with Magical Trumpets, a new work by Schuller, as well as his formidable Concerto da Camera, will serve as an elegy in memory of an extraordinary man of extraordinary talents.

Mercury Living Presence Boxed Sets

It has been an excellent year for reissues of audiophile classics. In my previous post about Decca’s Mono Sound boxed set, I mentioned that CD reissues of those classic recordings not only provided a collection of excellent music to enjoy, but they also gave one a sense of the history of recording.

Enter the Mercury Living Presence CD boxed sets; three volumes that are an embarrassment of riches. For audiophiles, MLP recordings are prized not only for their excellent sound, but also for classic performances by important orchestras such as the Minneapolis Symphony, London Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony. Soloists such as Janos Starker and Byron Janis are represented. In addition, the aesthetics of presentation – the album artwork – is often quite beautiful. An audio interview with the series’ producer, Wilma Cozart Fine, once again helps listeners to gain historical perspective.

There’s so much here that it is difficult to choose favorites, but I’ve particularly been enjoying a disc from Volume Three: the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antal Doráti, performing Copland’s Third Symphony. A mono recording that is new to CD, it displays an impressive dynamic range, detailed sound, and a performance that is taut and fast-paced. It removes a layer of the unnecessary bathos to which this symphony has sometimes been subjected in recent years.

From Volume One, there is the very first (!) recording of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition by Byron Janis. In addition to his solo recital, the disc includes a recording of the Ravel arrangement of Pictures, once again performed by Minneapolis under the direction of Doráti. From Volume Two, there is a recording that speaks volumes about its time: Morton Gould’s West Point Symphony, Alan Hovhaness’s Fourth Symphony, and Vittorio Giannini’s Third Symphony, performed by the Eastman Wind Ensemble under the direction of Frederick Fennell and Howard Roller. One may quibble about whether these are the most substantial works in the American canon, but the committed performances here by a collegiate ensemble of works by then-living composers serves as an object lesson for curating contemporary music.

Like all boxed sets, one must weigh the potential substantial investment against what it provides. Here, there are simply some of the best recordings released during the early LP era.

ZOFO Plays Terry Riley

ZOFO Plays Terry Riley

Sono Luminus Blu-ray/CD

Piano four hands duo Eva-Maria Zimmerman and Keisuke Nakagoshi once again bring energy, virtuosity, and imagination to a composer’s work on their latest recording, a portrait of Terry Riley.

ZOFO arranged a few of the pieces on the album for four hands. Their rendition of “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in the Moonlight” is a powerfully incisive standout and “G Song” is supple and, given the breathlessly fast tempo, played with impressive rhythmic integrity. There is also a new piece on the CD, commissioned by the duo: the sprightly, syncopated, and surprisingly stylistically faithful Praying Mantis Rag.

The rest of the programmed pieces are from The Heaven Ladder, Books 5 & 7, collections commissioned by pianists Sarah Cahill and Gloria Cheng. The most expansive of these selections, “Cinco de Mayo,” is given a sterling rendition, filled with dynamic shadings, fleet passagework, and tightly knit exchanges.

Pointed up on the album is Riley’s versatility as a composer. While he can create churning ostinatos with the best of them, his connections to jazz, raga, and dance music of many varieties are just as prominently felt here as his status as an elder statesman of minimalism. Given their chameleon-like presence on previous recordings, ranging from Rite of Spring to Samuel Barber to David Lang, it is hardly surprising that ZOFO relishes in the eclecticism of the fare here. Recommended.

Program note: Orchestra of the League of Composers

Orchestra of the League of Composers

Miller Theater

June 11, 2015

Tonight’s program revels in diverse compositional styles, ranging from postwar neo-tonality to twenty-first century postmodernism. Diverse too are the backgrounds of the programmed composers. However, each of them has a connection to the League of Composers and/or ISCM.

Kaija Saariaho is an honorary member of ISCM, and has been featured on ISCM’s World Music Days. Saariaho’s Leino Songs, her first settings in Finnish, receive their New York premiere on this concert. Buoyed by an intricate yet lush orchestration, Saariaho’s Leino Songs require abundant flexibility and dynamic control from the soprano soloist. Surrounding the vocal line is a varied framework of supple glissandos, countermelodies, and shimmering textures.

David Felder has also been performed at ISCM’s World Music Days. On this concert, excerpts from one of his major works, Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux, receive their New York premiere. The piece is richly colorful, yet its employment of extensive resources – voices, electronics, and a large chamber orchestra, featuring an extensive percussion section – retains clarity and incisiveness. Soaring passages for the voices are countered by extensive and imaginative orchestral/electronic interludes.

Irving Fine, whose centennial we celebrate with the performance of one of his best known compositions, Notturno, joined the League of Composers in 1949. Notturno contains stylistic signatures and melodic sensibilities that ally him to postwar American composers such as Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss. Yet his is a strongly individual voice. If one needed any evidence that Fine deserves wider recognition, Notturno’s elegant craftsmanship and delicate poignancy generously supply it.

Morris Rosenzweig’s home base is at the University of Utah, where he is Distinguished Professor of Music. But he has long been involved with League of Composers, coaching and conducting performances by the organization’s Chamber Players. Commissioned by the League of Composers/ISCM, Rosenzweig’s A League of Notions receives its world premiere on this concert. Featuring frequent changes of meter and ebullient rhythmic gestures, the piece is filled with ricocheting counterpoint, intricate harmonies, and angular solo passages. A League of Notions is a lithe and lively celebration of the League of Composers.

–     Christian Carey (christianbcarey.com)

Program Notes

Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux (2013) is a work for large chamber orchestra, solo soprano, and solo bass, with electronics, featuring texts by four poets, Neruda (“Full Powers”), Creeley (“Spring Light” and “Buffalo Evening”), Gioia (“Insomnia”), and the central poem by René Daumal from which the work takes its title.

Each of the poems warmly affirms time positioning and varying qualities of light as central to our sensory and internal experiencing. The Daumal serves as the central poem, a cross, indicative of a transpersonal ‘Great Time’ around which the other poems turn, as specific markers of events on a more intimate, personal scale.

– David Felder

Composed in 1951 and one of Irving Fine’s most frequently performed works, Notturno for Strings and Harp’s romantic lushness departs somewhat from Fine’s earlier, neoclassic style. The work has been characterized as the composer’s own blend of the styles of Chopin, Mozart, and Stravinsky. Its three movements, “Lento,” “Animato,” and “Adagio,” share some thematic material; the slow movements each end with lyrical viola solos. Leonard Bernstein conducted  Notturno’s “Adagio” movement at Fine’s memorial concert in 1962.

– Jennifer DeLapp

A League of Notions (2015) was commissioned by the League of Composers/ISCM. The work, about 11 minutes long, is in one movement, more or less equally divided into 4 sections: Introduction/Fantasy, Scherzo, Clouds/Shadows, and Vivace. A League of Notions was written in Salt Lake, Sheridan, Montana, and New Orleans.

Many and sincere thanks to the League/ISCM for the commission, to the members of the orchestra, its director Lou Karchin, and to the conductor Scott Voyles for extending the opportunity to me to create this work and their willingness and dedication in bringing it to life.

– Morris Rosenzweig

Kaija Saariaho’s Four Leino Songs (2008) are a setting of poems by one of Finland’s most prominent poets, Eino Leino. He was the most important developer of Finnish-language poetry at the turn of the 20th century, and in his works combined symbolism, mythic tradition, and influences from Nietzsche with his own romantic concept of the poet as a truth-seeking visionary. The four songs, entitled “Looking at You,” “The Heart,” “Evening Prayer,” and “Peace” were written for the Finnish soprano Anu Komsi.

– Kaija Saariaho

Righteous Girls CD/Album Release Party

On July 10th, Righteous Girls (flutist Gina Izzo and pianist Erika Dohi) release gathering blue, their debut CD on New Focus RecordingsThe album includes my duo For Milton, written in memory of Milton Babbitt. There’s also music by Andy Akiho, Akinmusire, Pascal Le Boeuf,  Vijay Iyer, Dave Molk, Mike Perdue, Jonathan Ragonese, and Randy Woolf. I’m honored to be in their company and on this exciting recording.

There will be a release party on August 7th at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub (information and tickets here). I hope you’ll join us!