BMOP Records Thomson and Premieres Sanford

Virgil Thomson – Gertrude Stein

Four Saints in Three Acts; Capital Capitals

 

Charles Blandy, tenor; Simon Dyer, bass; Aaron Engebreth, baritone; Andrew Garland, baritone; Tom McNichols, bass; Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, mezzo-soprano; Sarah Pelletier, soprano; Deborah Selig, soprano; Sumner Thompson, baritone; Lynn Torgove, mezzo-soprano; Stanley Wilson, tenor;

Boston Modern Orchestra, Gil Rose, conductor

 

BMOP/Sound 1049 2xCD

 

Virgil Thomson’s 1934 collaboration with the eminent author Gertrude Stein resulted in their first of two operas, Four Saints in Three Acts. Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose, has made successful forays into recorded opera before, bringing scores such as Lukas Foss’s Griffelkin and Charles Fussell’s Wilde to life. Their recording of Thomson/Stein’s opera is a very successful addition to the orchestra’s burgeoning catalog of works.

 

Taking Stein’s use of non-linear narrative in her writing as a cue, Thomson created a score that, for its time, was exceedingly adventurous. At first blush, one might well think of Thomson’s harmonic language – relentlessly tonal – and his borrowing of material from the American vernacular – ranging from hymns and folksongs to popular songs and dances – to be far more conservative than Ives or other contemporaries who mined similar material but with a more dissonant palette. There is also a component of repetition and scalar melismas, even counting that sounds like a cousin of passages in Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, that suggests a proto-minimal approach to Thomson’s design. However, near-constant shifts of texture and demeanor, which mirror Stein’s approach to text, provide their own set of challenges for both musicians and listeners: in essence, how to follow the thread?   

 

Four Saints in Three Acts is a work with a large cast, yet all of the roles in BMOP’s production are populated by fine singers, many of whom are associated with the Boston area’s various operatic ventures. The orchestra’s playing under Rose is also exemplary: this is a score in which frequent changes of instrumentation create a balancing act that could undo a lesser ensemble.

 

The liner notes are well curated. Given his totemic role as a writer on music, including Thomson’s essay about Four Saints is a particularly nice touch. Thomson scholar Steven Watson contributes his own enlightening essay, underscoring the durability of the opera through many production incarnations, from its original — an all African-American cast (most unusual for its day) — to Robert Wilson’s staging for huge animal costumes.

 

Capital Capitals is another Thomson/Stein collaboration, this one from 1927, for four male voices and piano. The text discusses the various virtues of “capital cities” —  Aix, Arles, Avignon, and Les Baux — in Provence (Stein became acquainted with the region during her tenure as an ambulance driver in the First World War). It is breezier than Four Saints and proves an eminently charming counterpart.

 

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David Sanford

At 8 PM on Friday, March 31st at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, BMOP presents a concert featuring works by John Harbison, Eric Sawyer, Ronald Perera, and the world premiere of BMOP commission Black Noise by David Sanford. Soloists include violinist Miranda Cuckson, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Andrea Lam. At 7 PM, a pre-concert lecture with the composers will be lead by Boston Symphony’s Robert Kirzinger. A repeat performance, this one with the Claremont Trio as soloists, will be at 3 PM on Sunday, April 2nd at Amherst College’s Buckley Recital Hall.  

GBV – “Dr. Feelgood Falls off the Ocean”

Guided by Voices
Photo: Sandlin Gaither

Guided by Voices’s August by Cake is out on April 7th. It is Robert Pollard’s one hundredth album!

TOUR DATES
4/7 – St. Louis, MO – Ready Room
4/8 – Oklahoma City, OK – ACM@UCO’s Metro Music Fest, The Criterion
4/14 – Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
4/15 – San Francisco, CA – Bimbo’s 365 Club
4/17 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
4/18 – Seattle, WA – Nuemos
4/21 – Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
4/22 – West Hollywood, CA – The Roxy Theatre
4/28 – Columbus, OH – Skully’s Music Diner
4/29 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Pyramid Scheme
5/5 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick
5/6 – Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop

Say it Ain’t So, Mr. Shipp

Matthew Shipp Piano Song

Matthew Shipp

Piano Song

Matthew Shipp, piano; Michael Bisio, bass; Newman Taylor-Baker, drums

Thirsty Ear Records

Pianist Matthew Shipp has been a prolific recording artist: he has released dozens of albums as a leader and appeared on dozens more as a collaborator. However, Piano Song, his 2017 recording for Thirsty Earwill be his last for the imprint and, likely, his last for a US label (Shipp concedes that there may be a few more CDs released out of Europe). Shipp will continue to curate the releases on Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series (a jazz series that welcomes cross-genre efforts) and he will continue to play live. That said, for those of us who are fans of Shipp’s recordings, it is saddening to contemplate that he is nearing the end of the road on this part of his musical journey.

Piano Song is a consistently engaging valedictory statement. A trio date with two solo tunes (all by Shipp), like much of Thirsty Ear’s output the CD is enthusiastically eclectic in terms of its stylistic profile. While bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor-Baker may not be as familiar to listeners as some of Shipp’s other collaborators, they form a beautifully well-connected rhythm section. Bisio’s solo on “The Cosmopolitan” is supple melodically and versatile harmonically. Taylor-Baker’s snare filigrees and drum fills considerably enliven both that tune and “Flying Carpet.” The rhythm section crafts a fluent and mysterious introduction for “Scrambled Brain.” Bisio employs double-stops in a wide-ranging part while Taylor-Baker coaxes all manner of subtleties from the snare drum, evolving into a more kinetic posture and adding cymbals and toms as the duo continues. This is a noteworthy aspect of Shipp’s approach to the trio: allowing duo subsets of the ensemble to really shine at various moments on the recording.

Shipp’s playing, in addition to having its own original stamp showing, encompasses the work of a wide range of progenitors: Taylor, Hill, Monk, Tyner, and Ellington, just to name a few. Shipp’s short solo at the beginning of the proceedings, and his intro on “Silence of”  combine modal and post-bop lyricism. He forcefully swings on “Micro Wave,” a tune that moves from quasi-bop licks to far more dissonant utterances. “Mind Space” finds him supplying fleet-fingered angular lines countered by Taylor-Baker, while repeated notes and chords as well as achingly slow Schoenbergian arpeggiations are accompanied by Bisio’s arco playing on “Void of Sea.” “The Nature Of” features Shipp’s signature low register melodies, in which a bass line is accompanied by a countermelody up an octave or so. Eventually, the piece expands to encompass the upper register too, with vertical stabs added to the duet texture. “Gravity Point” is rife with repetition, with halting ostinatos and tremolos set against a middle register piano solo and furious interplay from the rhythm section. The album closes with the title tune, a poignant ballad that the listener may imagine as Shipp waving goodbye to this chapter. Shipp’s discography is an impressive legacy and, at 56, one senses that he has much more to offer the jazz world in future incarnations.

Locrian Players Celebrate Rautavaara

Shoot for Locrian Chamber Players

On Saturday March 25th at 8 PM, Locrian Chamber Players present a concert at their home base of operations, the performance space at Riverside Church. The program celebrates the legacy of Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) with two works: The Last Runo for flute and string quartet and the violin-piano duo Summer Thoughts. It also features New York composer Harold Meltzer’s Piano Quartet. The evening is rounded out with pieces by Paolo Marchettini, Anthony Donofrio, and Chia-Yu Hsu. Admission is free; reception to follow.

Wendy Richman’s vox*viola project

Singing violist Wendy Richman

My dear friend and collaborator, singing violist Wendy Richman has undertaken a campaign to fund her first solo album, vox*viola. Consisting of pieces for singing violist by Lou Bunk, Christian Carey, Jason Eckardt, Stephen Gorbos, Jose-Luis Hurtado, Everette Minchew, Arlene Sierra, David Smooke, and Ken Uenothe recording will be released via ICE’s TUNDRA imprint on New Focus Recordings

Wendy first premiered my piece, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, a Yeats setting, in 2010 at a show that Kay and I presented at Bushwick Starr Theatre in Brooklyn. I selected the text because it was one of the readings at Kay’s and my wedding. In fact, the composition was a first anniversary present to Kay. It is inscribed:

Dearest Kay,

They say that the proper gift for a first wedding anniversary is paper. I hope you don’t mind that mine includes notes. 

All my love,

C

Wendy has been a true champion of the piece, and has since performed it in Ohio and Alabama. Other champions need mentioning: Mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen and violist John Yuan have performed Cloths of Heaven as a duo and Megan and mezzo-soprano Ellen Broen have also performed a voice-piano version with pianists Graeme Burgan and Jonathan Palmer Lakeland. Megan has even switched roles and performed it in a higher key with a violinist.

 

All of this to say that Wendy’s commission sparked my inspiration, and gave impetus to a piece of mine that has had a larger life than many, and that makes me all the more grateful to her. I am thrilled that she will be recording the piece and am excited by the works that are alongside it on the program; many are by close friends which makes this project feel particularly close-knit. She has made an IndieGoGo page for her funding campaign for the recording. You can check it out here.

 

Esa-Pekka Salonen and Yo-Yo Ma: “Playing with Friends” (Video)

I’m very much looking forward to hearing Yo-Yo Ma play Esa-Pekka Salonen’s new cello concerto, which he performs tonight with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Music Director Alan Gilbert.

Music Sales has shared a group of videos of Ma and Salonen discussing the gestation of the piece (embedded below).

The Chieftains: “The Foggy Dew” (SoundCloud)

An early photo of Paddy Maloney (center) and the Chieftains

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Today my parents would have been married 49 years. We miss Dad, especially on this day. He loved the Chieftains more than most music, so I’m sharing one of their best recordings below, courtesy of Soundcloud.