Tallis Scholars Premiere Nico Muhly in Midtown

Tallis Scholars: A Renaissance Christmas

Tallis Scholars. Photo: Nick Rutter.

Miller Theatre Early Music Series

Church of St. Mary the Virgin

December 1, 2018

Published on Sequenza 21

By Christian Carey

NEW YORK – The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips, made their annual appearance in New York as part of Miller Theatre’s Early Music series at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Midtown. The program was billed as a dual celebration — the 45th anniversary of the Tallis Scholars and Miller Theatre’s 30th anniversary season.

In honor of the occasion, Miller Theatre commissioned a new piece for the Tallis Scholars by composer Nico Muhly. Muhly has, of late, garnered a great deal of attention for two Metropolitan Opera commissions  — Two Boys and Marnie — but he often talks about his first love being choral music (he began his musical career as a chorister). Muhly’s choral works are exquisitely crafted and texturally luminous. Rough Notes (2018), his new piece for the concert at St. Mary’s, took its texts from two diary entries by Robert Falcon Scott, written near the end of his ill-fated voyage to Antarctica. The first excerpt describes the aurora australis, providing words such as “arches, bands, and curtains”  that are ripe for colorful musical setting. The second was Scott’s stoic expression of confidence in his team’s ability to accept their impending deaths with dignity. Muhly’s use of lush cluster chords in the first section gave way to more sharply etched, but still glinting, harmonies in the second, as well as poignantly arcing melodies. The divided choir of ten voices was skilfully overlapped to sound like many times that number. It is always fascinating to hear the Tallis Scholars switch centuries, and thus style, to perform contemporary repertoire; for instance, their CD of Arvo Pärt’s music is a treasure. One hopes that they might collaborate on a recording with Muhly in the future.

The rest of the program was of considerably earlier music, but ranged widely in chronology. The earliest piece was an elegant and under-heralded Magnificat setting by John Nesbett from the late Fifteenth century that is found in the Eton Choirbook. Chant passages give way to various fragments of the ensemble that pit low register vs. high for much of the piece. It culminates by finally bringing all the voices together in a rousing climax. The Tallis Scholars has, of yet, not recorded Nesbett, but Peter Phillips has committed the Magnificat to disc in an inspired performance with the Choir of Merton College, Oxford (The Marian Collection, Delphian, 2014).  

Palestrina’s motet Hodie Christus natus est, and the eponymous parody mass which uses this as its source material, were the centerpiece of the concert. The motet was performed jubilantly and with abundant clarity. The mass is one of Palestrina’s finest. He took the natural zest of its source material, added plenty of contrapuntal elaborations, and made subtle shifts to supply a thoughtful rendition of the text. Although we are, in terms of the liturgical calendar, in the midst of the reflective period of Advent, being propelled forward to the midst of some of the most ebullient yet substantial Christmas music of the Renaissance was a welcome inauguration of the season.

The two works that concluded the concert dealt with different aspects of the Christmas story. William Byrd’s Lullaby is actually quite an unsettling piece; its text deals with the Slaughter of the Innocents as ordered by Herod. One is left to imagine the infant Jesus being consoled by Mary and Joseph in the midst of their flight from persecution. Byrd composed it in the Sixteenth century (it was published in 1588), but Lullaby was the piece on the concert most tailored to this moment, evoking concerns of our time: the plight of refugees, the slaughter of innocent bystanders by acts of senseless aggression: particularly the vulnerability of children to indiscriminate bombing abroad and the epidemic of gun violence in our own country.

The last piece returned to a festive spirit and brought the Tallis Scholars to the cusp of the Baroque with Hieronymus Praetorius’s Magnificat V with interpolations of two carols: Joseph lieber, Joseph mein and In dulci jubilo. During the Christmas season, interspersing carols and sections of the Magnificat was a standard practice in Baroque-era Lutheran churches; J.S. Bach might even have done so in the services he led at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Praetorius plus two carols gave the Tallis Scholars an opportunity to share three of their most-performed Christmas pieces. From seemingly effortless floating high notes to sonorous bass singing, with tons of deftly rendered imitative passages in the inner voices, the group made a glorious sound. One eagerly awaits their return to New York during their 46th season.

Stile Antico at St. Mary’s

Stile Antico
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Stile Antico in Concert

October 13, 2018 Church of St. Mary the Virgin

By Christian Carey

 

NEW YORK – The first concert in Miller Theatre’s 2018-19 Early Music Series, given in midtown at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, presented the acclaimed choral group Stile Antico from the UK. They have made regular appearances on the Miller series. As is their custom, Stile Antico sang without a conductor in a semicircle facing front. The occasional setup change consists of singers changing formation and, in pieces in which the full ensemble isn’t required, “extra” singers sit down.

 

They sing vibrantly and expressively with a sumptuous sound. The concert program, titled “Elizabeth I, Queen of Muses,” brought together masterworks of Tudor era polyphony and continental repertoire that had passed through the monarch’s orbit. Several of the latter group of works were taken from a gift from one of the Queen’s suitors, Erik XIV of Sweden: a partbook that included pieces by Lassus, Willaert, and Sandrin. The latter’s chanson Doulce Memoire was particularly fetching, performed with gentle grace. The group also sang three solemn and stolid penitential psalm settings by Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder, an Italian composer who was a member of the Elizabeth’s court, paid a handsome salary for music and, some say, espionage.

 

English music formed the bulk of the program. It included a piece from early in the sixteenth century, Tavener’s  Christe Jesu Bone Pastor, filled with brightly articulate slices of homophony and soaring passages of imitation. From the other end of the chronological spectrum, early in the seventeenth century, Stile Antico offered jaunty renditions of two of John Dowland’s best known ayres: “Now, O now I needs must part” and “Can She Excuse my Wrongs.”

 

The choir is one of the best on the planet for works by Tallis and Byrd. Several of these were performed, capturing a gamut of emotions. Byrd’s “This sweet and merry month of May” is a jubilant madrigal greeting to Elizabeth, while his Attolite porta is a richly attired setting of Psalm 23. “O Lord Make thy servant Elizabeth” is an extraordinary piece, and Stile Antico rendered its elaborate Amen cadence with fulsome power and beauty. Ne irascaris is another facet of Byrd’s art. A recusant Catholic, he composed a collection of motets with texts both coded and charged with defiance. Clearly Byrd was graced with Elizabeth’s favor, otherwise he would have been unlikely to get away with daring pieces like Ne irascaris. The Tallis selection on the program was his worshipful, declamatory Abserge Domine. I could have done with three more Tudor motets and no Ferrabosco, but that’s quibbling.

 

The concert concluded with a group of madrigals written in honor of Elizabeth, taken from “The Triumphs of Oriana,” a collection of 25 madrigals by 23 composers. After sterling renderings of “The lady Oriana” by John Wilbye (Oriana is a poetic title for Elizabeth) and “Fair Nymphs I heard one telling, the last, “As Vesta was, from Latmos hill descending,” by Thomas Weelkes, displayed the group’s vocal prowess at its finest, with high-ranging lines and overlapping melismatic passages converging to thrilling effect. Stile Antico’s annual visits to New York could easily be double or trebled: they have developed a strong following here and the reasons for this were amply demonstrated on 13 October at St. Mary’s.

 

  • Christian Carey writes regularly for Tempo, Musical America, and Sequenza 21.

BMOP: an Interview with Gil Rose

Gil Rose

Gil Rose directs the Boston Modern Orchestra Projector BMOP. The orchestra’s in house label, BMOP/Sound, has released a spate of vital CDs of American music. I recently interviewed Rose about recordings already released on the label and a preview of the rest of 2018’s live and recorded events.

 

In recent years, BMOP has released several recordings that “crossover” into pop, what some writers have described “Indie classical.” Which of these projects do you think have most effectively helped the ensemble to grow musically? Do you approach conducting differently when a groove supplied by a rhythm section or drum kit is part of the proceedings?

 

Several projects come to mind including Eric Moe’s Kick and Groove  both discs we did of Evan Ziporyn’s music and Tony Di Ritis Devolution. I think that when you have a “kit” involved listening is at a premium. At that point its important to share the stage with the drummer and try not to be a groove buster while keeping all the proceedings together. I think there is a lot of trust in the orchestra which empowers the players.  That always brings out their best. I think we saw this at its best in our recording of Mackey’s Dreamhouse.

 

I found BMOP’s Wayne Peterson recording to be fascinating, both because theIre isn’t a comparable disc of his orchestra music and because of the history of his Pulitzer prizewinning piece “The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark.” At the time that he won the award, there was some controversy because Ralph Shapey was one of the other finalists and was told his work was rejected in the finals after being recommended by the music subcommittee. He got mad and was very public about it. Listening to the two pieces, they are certainly different but are in the same pocket, relatively speaking: One wonders what all the fuss was about Peterson winning. Did you two discuss the Pulitzer situation at all or do you have any insights?

 

I never have discussed the Pulitzer “incident” with Wayne.  I think the piece is a knockout all by itself. It’s those American orchestral “Tone-Poems” that was likely to be forgotten in spite of the Pulitzer history.  Robert Erickson’s Aurorus in the same ilk. There are MANY others. Great works that have been left behind because they require a virtuosic orchestra to pull off but major American orchestras are unwilling to take them on for reasons that personify the stagnation of our orchestral culture.

 

Paul Moravec’s ‘secular oratorio’ seems to share an affinity with some British pieces in a similar vein: Tippett and Vaughan Williams, for example. Was that on your mind at all when preparing the piece for recording? Congratulations, by the way — it seems like a very challenging work — tough vocal parts as well as an ambitious orchestration — and BMOP/NEC pulled it off without a hitch.

 

I think you are right to point out the connection to English Music.  Though the piece is written for full orchestra it relies primarily on the strings. It gives it a sheen that makes it very exposed for the singers.  Also the the vocal writing is tricky because the tonality is extended in the direction of chromatasicm which makes the tunig hard for the singers while they still have to sound lyrical.  The subject matter is a challenge as well. The piece luckily (through clever design) has a few lighter moments as well as a good bit of hope to go along with the considerable pathos.

 

For Innova, BMOP and you recorded Ann Millikan’s “Symphony,” which deals with someone close to her battling cancer? Will you please tell us a little more about the impetus for this piece and the way in which you interpreted its very personal story?

 

Ann approached BMOP about making a recording of what for her was a very personal work.  We were honored that she thought of us. Although the piece is dedicated to, and about someone who died, it actually is more of a portait of his interests and activities.  It sort of functions as a celabration of his loves and life. I tried to bring out the character of each movement and how they related to the subject.

 

Del Tredici’s Child Alice is one of an extensive series of his pieces that are based on Lewis Carroll? How do feel that his take on the stories of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ are inhabited in the music of “Child Alice?” What did you do to prepare yourself and the musicians for dealing with the particular sound world and quirky expressivity of the piece?

 

I think the Alice stories and characters gave David the chance to deal in a kind of deep psychological exploration while at the same time show his sheer showmanship. His understanding of how music works at technical and sonic level when married his great sense of theater and sheer insanity creates an experience that you can’t prepare for.  All I told the players was buckle up as your about to go several Rabbit Holes at the same time.

 

Looking ahead to 2018, what are some of the recordings and activities to which BMOP listeners can look forward?

 

In 2018 we have a full slate of concert and releases.  We did a tribute to Joan Tower in February, In April were world premieres by Lei Lang, Anthony Di Ritis, Huang Rou followed by performances at the Library of Congress and June in Buffalo.  Upcoming releases include works by Charles Fussell & Peter Child the complete orchestra works of Leon Kirchner, a great Chen Yi CD and Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and a few other surprises.

 

Information about BMOP’s first Fall concert is below.

 

______________

 

Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) Kicks Off 2018-19 Season with Four Boston Premieres

 

When: Friday, October 19, 2018, 8:00pm

Where: NEC’s Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston

Who: Boston Modern Orchestra Project led by conductor Gil Rose with soloists Hannah Lash (harp) and Colin Currie (percussion)

What: Four Boston Premieres:

Steven Mackey – Tonic

Hannah Lash – Concerto No. 2 for Harp and Orchestra

Hannah Lash, Harp

Harold Meltzer – Vision Machine

Steven Mackey – Time Release

Colin Currie, Percussion

 

Quatuor Bozzini at Time Spans 2018 (Concert Review)

Bozzini Quartet.
Photo: Yuko Zama.

Quatuor Bozzini

Timespans Festival

DiMenna Center for Classical Music

August 14, 2018

NEW YORK – Quatuor Bozzini, a Canadian string quartet, have performed and recorded a plethora of contemporary music. While their advocacy is wide-ranging, the music of Canadian composers is near and dear to Quatuor Bozzini. They demonstrated this at the opening concert of Time:Spans Festival, five concerts this past week devoted to some of the most ambitious repertoire of today. The Bozzinis’ committed and razor-focused performances of works by Linda Catlin Smith and Cassandra Miller made them a tough act to follow.

Linda Catlin Smith’s Folkestone (1999) is inspired by an 1845 sketchbook of watercolors by J.M.W. Turner. While the Catlin Smith piece isn’t programmatic, Folkestone’s point of departure is the idea behind the sketchbook, that of returning to the same location over and over again to depict it in different light, weather, and events, thus creating a panoply of artwork that responds to it. The piece is cast in a series of twenty-four sections, called “panels” by the composer, interspersed with silences in between them to denote “page turns” between the musical sketches.

 

Composing prevailingly slow and soft music, allowing it silence and space to breathe, Catlin Smith is a kindred spirit of the Wandelweiser collective, John Cage, and Morton Feldman. However, she employs a highly individual pitch language. In places, piquant clusters populated Folkestone, casting adrift from pitch centers and offering instead rich polychords. However, peering out of the corners of her music are singable tunes and sumptuous consonances. All of these features in combination supply a slowly evolving, gently articulated music that is truly beguiling.

 

Cassandra Miller’s About Bach (2015) co-opts a phrase from J.S Bach’s Chaconne No. 2. However, the quotation is a jumping off point for an extended meditation on repetition. The melody, in the altissimo register, is repeated over and over by the violins in the quartet. They trade off the tune in a ricocheting antiphony that is among the most interesting aspects of the piece, underlining the element of space in the quartet. The other players provide brief, bustling lines in counterpoint.

 

In Catlin Smith’s piece, repetitions were varied and off center, requiring the listener’s attentiveness to differences in the various sketches she creates. Miller’s About Bach instead revels in repetition with the small differences of antiphony being the only change. One had to be willing to put aside the desire for differences of a large sort in Miller’s piece. But in the right headspace, going with the repeats instead of waiting for them to end, the piece proves spellbinding.

Both Smith and Miller have new CDs out on the British label Another Timbre. Miller’s disc, a recording by Quatuor Bozzini, is one of the label’s latest run of discs by Canadian Composers. Smith has been recorded both by the Bozzinis and, more recently, Apartment House. All Another Timbre outings are heartily recommended.

 

Friday: Locrian Chamber Players at Riverside Church

CC: Once again, cheering for the home team. Locrian performed my Gilgamesh Suite in 2012. 

Kyburz_4c

Towards the last days of summer, a concert that I eagerly anticipate is Locrian Chamber Players’ August season finale. The group’s mandate is to focus (nearly) exclusively on pieces composed within the previous decade. Artistic director David MacDonald, a composer who teaches at Manhattan School of Music, selects imaginative repertoire.

On August 24th at 8 PM, Locrian will present one of their bravest programs yet. This is due to its cornerstone piece, Réseaux by Hanspeter Kyburz, a formidable chamber sextet A few years ago, I had the pleasure of workshopping it with the composer at Boston’s Goethe Institute. If you don’t know Kyburz’s music – he is not played nearly often enough in the United States – this piece is well worth making it a point to hear.

In addition to Réseaux, Locrian will perform works by Macdonald, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Sebastian Currier, and David Feurzeig. Admission is free, both to the concert and a convivial reception afterwards.

Event Listing

Locrian Chamber Players

Friday, August 24 at 8 PM

Riverside Church – 10th Floor Performance Space

To reach The Riverside Church by subway, take the 1 or 9 train to 116th Street.  By bus, take the M4 or M104 to Broadway and 120th Street.  Enter The Riverside Church at 91 Claremont Avenue (one block west of Broadway, between 120th Street and 122nd Street)

Tickets are not required for this FREE concert.

This September – Premiere Performances of “A Lady”

Byrne Kozar Duo

 

The Bryne:Kozar Duo – soprano Corrine Byrne and trumpeter Andy Kozar – recently commissioned a quarter-tone piece from me, a setting of Amy Lowell’s poem “A Lady.” They will be premiering the work in Boston on September 9th, one of three performances they will be giving of the piece; the others are in New York and Media, Pennsylvania (see listings below). Also on the program are pieces by Paula Matthusen, Scott Wollschleger, Reiko Füting, Rob Deemer, Scott Worthington and David Smooke.

 

Byrne:Kozar Duo – September Performances

9/9 – A Lady (premiere), Byrne:Kozar Duo, Second Sunday Concert Series, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts; 4 PM.

9/14 – A Lady, Byrne:Kozar Duo, National Opera Center, New York, New York; 7:30 PM.

9/16 – A Lady, Bryne:Kozar Duo, Delaware County Community College, Media PA; 3 PM, $10.

Da Capo Players at Merkin (Concert Review)

Da Capo Chamber Players Perform a Potpourri of American Works

 

Da Capo Chamber Players

Da Capo Chamber Players

Merkin Concert Hall

June 4, 2018

 

NEW YORK – Themed programs and portrait concerts are all the rage these days. As such, it is refreshing when an ensemble goes eclectic, presenting a diverse array of music. Such was the case on Monday, June 4th, when Da Capo Chamber Players performed eight pieces by living American composers who write in a plethora of styles. Consisting of violinist Curtis Macomber, cellist Chris Gross, flutist Patricia Spencer, pianist Steven Beck and joined by guest artists soprano Lucy Shelton, clarinetists Marianne Glythfeldt and Carlos Cordeiro, and percussionist Michael Lipsey, the musicians are a formidable cadre of some of New York’s best new music performers. This was handily demonstrated in all of the works on offer at Merkin — how often can you depend on that level of consistency?

 

Few groups perform the rhythmic patternings of minimalism more assuredly than the Da Capo Players. Here they clearly delineated the differences between various types of ostinatos. Sweet air (1999) by David Lang juxtaposed its repetitions with distressed dissonances, In the sole premiere on the program, Dylan Mattingly’s Ecstasy #3 (2018) presented passages filled with an alt-folk-inflected melody. An arrangement by Robert Moran of Philip Glass’s Modern Love Waltz (1980) may have explored repetition in the most straightforward way of the pieces here, but its fluid playfulness made it a fetching addition to the proceedings.

 

The modernist wing of composition was represented too. Elliott Carter’s Canon for Four (1984) received an incisive rendition, with the contrapuntal details of the work vividly underscored. Tanoa León’s One Mo’ Time (2016) mixed a varied palette of chromaticism with inflections of gospel and jazz. She is one of the best at allowing these two traditions to coexist in her music in organic fashion. Christopher Cerrone supplied one of the evening’s most imaginative works. Hoyt=Schermerhorn for keyboard mixed a gradual build-up of soft textures that was somewhat indebted to the works of Feldman but through quicker changes of harmony. Over time, effects such as reverb and treble register loops brought the piece from its eighties origins into the twenty-first century. Amalgam (2015) by Taylor Brook, was the concert’s most experimental piece, with the players (and soprano Lucy Shelton) moving from disparate roles to unison playing, then heterophonic treatment of the piece’s melody. Amalgam is a fascinating composition that certainly proved to be a successful experiment for Da Capo.

 

The concert’s standout was Romancero (1983), for soprano and ensemble, settings of four medieval poems thought to be from the Sephardic Jewish tradition by Mario Davidovsky. Shelton was as expressive as ever and well-matched for the angular challenges posed by Romancero’s post-tonal pitch vocabulary. Her voice ranged from delicately floating pianissimo passages to forceful forte declamations. The instrumental parts are quite demanding as well, reminiscent of the complexly articulate language of Davidovsky’s electroacoustic Synchronisms. Shelton is a frequent collaborator with Da Capo (see a recent video of their rendition of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire below), and their association showed in the intricate interplay between voice and instruments: a gem of a performance.

 

As if to remind us of the celebratory catholicity of taste that bound together the disparate strands of this program, its finale was the brief, yet brilliantly multi-faceted, Encore (1991) by Bruce Adolphe. Composed to celebrate the Da Capo Players’ twentieth anniversary, it has remained a staple of their repertoire. It is hard to believe that the group has now been going for 48 years. Based on the vigor with which they performed at Merkin Hall, the sky’s the limit for their upcoming golden anniversary season.