Je Suis Aime

Another recital recording, this one performed by Soprano Sara Noble with organ drone. It is a setting of a chanson by French poet Clement Marot, an anniversary present for Kay.

Carson Cooman commissioned and performed a set of variations on this piece for chamber organ.

Je suis aimé de la plus belle
Qui soit vivant dessous les cieux:
Encontre tous faux envieux
Je la soutiendrai être telle.

Si Cupido doux et rebelle
Avait débandé ses deux yeux,
Pour voir son maintien gracieux,
Je crois qu’amoureux serait d’elle.

Vénus, la Déesse immortelle,
Tu as fait mon coeur bien heureux,
De l’avoir fait être amoureux
D’une si noble Damoiselle.

Clément Marot

I am loved by the most beautiful lady
Who has ever lived beneath the heavens;
Against all false enviers
I will uphold her to be so.

If sweet and rebellious Cupid
Had taken off his blindfold
To see her graceful carriage,
I think he would have fallen in love with her.

Venus, the immortal Goddess,
You have made my heart very happy,
To have put me in love with
Such a noble maiden.

Translated by Fenton Groden

“3 Kenyon Songs” – “Psalm 103” (SoundCloud)

May 2016 recital photo - Noble - Carey - Ihnen

This week I am posting recordings from a May 2016 recital that was performed at All Saints’ Church in Princeton, New Jersey. Organized by soprano Sara Noble and the Contemporary Undercurrents of Song Project, it was given for me after I returned home last Spring from having cancer surgeries in Nashville. It was the most thoughtful musical homecoming a composer could experience.

Below are two live recordings from the event: You may check out my Soundcloud page for addition selections. The first is a duo version by Sara and mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen of my Psalm 103 setting.

The second has often been performed but never before recorded in its entirety – the piano-vocal version of my Three Kenyon Settings, performed by Megan and pianist Graeme Burgan. (Singing cellist Jody Redhage commissioned the set for herself to perform and made a recording of one of the songs, “Otherwise,” that you can also hear on Soundcloud.

Golden Retriever: “Sunsight” (Bandcamp)

Vibraphone, piano, and glissando strings open the seven-minute long post-rock track “Sunsight.” The band, Golden Retriever, has always incorporated contemporary classical sounds and gestures into its music, but a surprise is the jazzy cast of the bass clarinet solo that follows the introduction. It appears in the foreground; the aforementioned textures are then backgrounded alongside keyboard glissandos.

The original nucleus of Golden Retriever is the duo of Matt Carlson and Jonathan Sielaff. But as our friends over at Tiny Mix Tapes point out, here they enlist a whole chamber orchestra to assist in the recording of this single, which appears as the last track on Rotations, Golden Retriever’s latest full length for Thrill Jockey (out July 28th). The result isn’t merely a thickening of textures, but an enrichment of ideas.

Thursday: League of Composers at Miller Theatre (7:30 start time)

On Thursday, May 25th at 7:30 PM, the Orchestra of the League of Composers, directed by Louis Karchin along with conductor David Fulmer, will present a program of works by Arvo Pärt, Fred Lerdahl, Lisa Bielawa, and Sheree Clement (a new piece commissioned by League of Composers/ISCM) at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. Tickets are $25/$15 for students/seniors

Below is my program note for the concert, which should supply some background in advance of the concert.

 

Program note: Season Finale: Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM

By Christian Carey

 

One of the fundamental ways in which the League of Composers fulfills its mission is by programming a diverse selection of music. As with past “season finale” concerts given by the League’s orchestra, tonight’s program encompasses works from the United States and abroad in a variety of styles. Commissioning and highlighting new work is a particular focus; the concert includes a world premiere (written by Sheree Clement and commissioned by the League).

 

The concert begins with Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, one of Arvo Pärt’s important first forays into the tintinnabuli style for which he has become best known. The composer’s style has often been described as minimalism (“holy minimalism” by opportunistic broadcasters and less-than-kind critics), but this strand of repetition-based composition is quite different from American varieties. Rather than being based primarily on unfolding repetitive processes, like the approach taken early on in music by Glass and Reich, or being based on the omnipresent ostinatos of post-minimalists such as John Adams and Michael Torke, Pärt’s approach is based on melodic formulations: canon and monodic stepwise melodies set against bell-like triadic sonorities. While the materials themselves are simple, they are variously combined in an accumulation of gestures that is anything but.

 

Whereas Pärt’s piece doesn’t include a single accidental, Sheree Clement’s Stories I Cannot Tell You, revels in a labyrinthine chromaticism. There is also significant attention paid to timbre: a panoply of orchestral combinations and colors supply this work with still more intricacy and mystery. The portentous quality of repeated notes from a bass drum delineates and unifies the piece’s three connected movements. While the composer avows that Stories is not specifically programmatic, her program note is filled with visceral images and powerful emotions – which are equaled by the music’s expressionist quality – descended from Schoenberg yet firmly on 21st century footing.

 

Originally composed for American Composers’ Orchestra and the pianist Anton Armstrong (who also performs the work on this program), Lisa Bielawa’s Start is the last section of The Right Weather, a four-part work whose movement titles derive from the key words of a quote from Aleksandr Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin: Roam, Wait, Beckon, Start. It is not a minimal work per se, although it shares some features with minimalist compositions. Start uses the aforementioned trope of American minimalism – the ostinato – as the motor in a variegated postmodern atmosphere. In addition to local ostinatos, there is an overarching repetitive process at work as well, a fascinating structural device that starts as a repeated single note in the slow section midway through the piece. Gradually, this “big beat” accumulates more and more pitches until it is a rearticulated chord and then – in one of the piece’s culminating gestures – an emphatically presented cluster. In a craftily enigmatic close, we are treated to an echo – a triad with a split third – presenting both major and minor in countervailing tension.

 

Fred Lerdahl supplies his own 21st century reset of a 20th century style; in this case, neoclassicism. Composed for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Time and Again is a lithely scored but powerfully articulate piece. Initially, this music was sketched for truly Spartan resources: as a duo for violin and cello called Give and Take. While there is an element of “theme and variations” here, the material isn’t exactly reiterated. Rather, continual transformations, particularly in the rhythmic domain, take place. Three large sections of development speed and slow the material in myriad ways, creating an unpredictable whorl of gestures. The coda builds a sustained unison to a cadence that is deflected by one final, puckish flourish.

Composer Christian Carey is an Associate Professor of Music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. He edits the contemporary classical website Sequenza 21 (christianbarey.com).

Required Reading: The Spectral Piano

The Spectral Piano

Book review

The Spectral Piano

From Liszt, Scriabin, and Debussy to the Digital Age

By Marilyn Nonken, with a chapter by Hugues Dufourt

Cambridge University Press, 192 pp., 2014/2016 (paperback edition)

By Christian Carey

Recently reissued in paperback, pianist/author Marilyn Nonken’s book The Spectral Piano is a fascinating examination of the history of piano music beginning in the mid-1800s that leads to its use in a spectral context from the 1970s to the present. Nonken’s thesis is that the employment of the piano to imitate the harmonic series so prevalent in contemporary spectralism is a venerable practice; that composers have long sought to subvert the equal-tempered tuning of the piano with various manners of spacing and subterfuge in order to align it more closely with the deployment of overtones found in nature.

Nonken is particularly successful in this pursuit. She connects the music of Liszt, Scriabin, Ravel, Debussy, Messiaen, Boulez, and others to the project of proto-spectralism. The author is also convincing in her positioning of recent American composers, such as Joshua Fineberg (a composer whom she has championed on recording) and Edmund Campion, and British composers James Dillon and Jonathan Harvey, as heirs to the traditions of spectralism. Nonken also excels at making connections between technological advances in measuring acoustic phenomena and parallel advances in proto-spectral and spectral music.

As a matter of course, French spectralism of the 1970s-90s occupies a central role in the book. Discussion of Tristan Murail, Gérard Grisey, and Hugues Dufourt, the latter of whom contributes a chapter, “Spectralism and the Pianistic Expression,” appended at the end of the book, provides a thought-provoking survey of these composers’ spectral works. In turn, the students of this first generation of spectralists, most of whom studied at IRCAM, such as Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, Philippe Hurel, and Marc-Andre Dalbavie, are presented as “hybrid spectralists;” heirs to a tradition, but one that they have sought to expand through the addition of non-spectral elements from new complexity, second modernity, electroacoustic, and other areas of compositional activity. A curious omission from this section is Georg Friedrich Haas, whose work flow and friction for sixteenth tuned piano four hands is organized using principles of spectralism.

In The Spectral Piano, Nonken brings to bear both her extensive knowledge of piano literature as an estimable performer of both contemporary and earlier works, as well as an impressive scholarly acumen. The result is a volume that will cause much rethinking of traditional piano music and exposure to a new and vital repertoire. Now that the book has been made available in paperback, it is a must-have for the libraries of composers and pianists.

Daniel Corral – Refractions (CD Review)

Refractions

Daniel Corral

Populist Records CD PR012

Jeremy Kerner, electric guitar; Isaura String Quartet; Corral, music box and laptop

LA-based Populist Records has released another treasure trove of unusual ambience. Daniel Corral’s Refractions, featuring the composer on music box laptop alongside electric guitarist Jeremy Kerner and the Isaura String Quartet, captures a compelling ambient composition. Delicate strains from guitar and strings are offset by bell-like interjections from Corral’s music box and swaths of sustained sounds from his laptop. The piece begins with all of these various textures and gradually is winnowed down to the music box, supplying minimal punctuations and offset repetitions in a slow ritardando until the piece’s delicate denouement and eventual close. Given the deliberate limitation of resources and lassitude of pacing, this slowly evolving piece of music is spellbinding in its execution. Rather than foregrounding the incremental shifts of material, the listener is encouraged to bask in a wash of sounds, varied and lovely timbres that are deployed with enough independence to seem to have minds of their own.

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